Habits Secretly Increasing Your Blood Clot Risk, Say Physicians
Blood clotting—also known as venous thromboembolism (VTE)—is a necessary function in the human body for wound healing and for stopping bleeding, but blood clots can also be dangerous if they form in the wrong place and don't dissolve. According to the CDC, 900,000 Americans a year are affected by blood clots, resulting in nearly 100,000 deaths. Here are five habits raising the risk of dangerous blood clots. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
COVID-19 and Blood Clots
Blood clots are one of the more concerning health conditions related to the COVID-19 virus. "When you, say, fall and skin your knee, it turns your immune system on, and one of the ways your immune system reacts to an injury is by making your clotting system more active," says Matthew Exline, MD, medical director of the medical intensive care unit at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. "It kind of makes sense that your body would say, if I see an infection, I need to be ready to clot. But when the infection is as widespread and inflammatory as COVID-19, that tendency to clot can become dangerous."
"Surgery is also one of the leading causes of blood clots in patients, which means those at highest risk need to be diligent in speaking to their surgeon about their elevated risks so preventive measures can be taken," says Peter Blume, DPM, FACFAS. "The biggest recommendation you see in the airline magazines when you're flying is to move your legs to prevent DVT, because people who sit on a long flight have a high incidence of DVT," Dr. Blume explained. "Similarly, if you're sitting after surgery and the blood is not moving in the calf and you're not exercising, you could end up with a clot in your calf. Surgeons have learned over the years that getting people moving after surgery will reduce the risk of a clot causing a pulmonary embolism."
Spending hours sitting can greatly increase the risk of blood clots, doctors warn. "Prolonged sitting is one of the main causes for many of the conditions treated in my musculoskeletal clinic. It often results in office visits with other types of doctors as well," says Eric K. Holder, MD, Yale Medicine. "It is so ingrained in our society now—people are stationed at desks, seated in front of computers or the TV for extended periods, constantly traveling in cars, trains, and on planes. It's a major health problem that can lead to many chronic diseases."
"Not exercising or moving around on occasion can lead to a more extensive blood clot," says vascular surgeon Britt H. Tonnessen, MD.
Stress and Anxiety
There is evidence that being overly stressed or anxious can lead to blood clots—there's a reason people talk about being "frightened stiff"! "After all, we have programmes to help the population give up smoking or take more exercise. But if we want to reduce the number of heart disorders, it would make sense to improve the way anxiety disorders are diagnosed and treated," says Dr. Franziska Geiser.
The dangers of smoking cigarettes are well-known at this point, but did you know smoking can raise the risk of dangerous blood clots? "Smoking raises the risk of unwanted blood clots and makes it more likely that platelets will stick together," warns the American Heart Association. "Smoking also damages the lining of the blood vessels, which can cause clots to form."