Getting to know blood clot treatment
What’s the aim of blood clot treatment?
Blood clot treatments focus on dissolving existing clots, preventing new clots from forming, or both. You may need a short treatment course, but sometimes people need long-term or lifelong medication. Others may need to consider surgical options.
Blood clots most commonly occur in the lower legs and arms, also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). They may also travel to the lungs, which is known as a pulmonary embolism (PE). Less commonly, blood clots may appear in the heart and brain.
Blood clots can affect anyone, and around 900,000 people in the United States have blood clots each year. If you’re managing a blood clot, know that effective treatment options are available.
How to get rid of blood clots
Once a doctor gives a blood clot diagnosis, they may devise a treatment plan that includes some medications.
1. Anticoagulant drugs
If you have DVT or PE, you’ll likely receive a prescription for an anticoagulant, also known as a blood thinner. These drugs reduce the blood’s ability to clot, which prevents clots from getting bigger while the body works to absorb them.
Anticoagulants are commonly taken by mouth (orally) and include:
- warfarin (Jantoven, Coumadin)
- apixaban (Eliquis)
- dabigatran (Pradaxa)
- edoxaban (Savaysa)
- rivaroxaban (Xarelto)
A 2020 study found that doctors most commonly prescribe warfarin within the United States and United Kingdom.
Depending on the anticoagulant you are prescribed, a healthcare professional may teach you to self-inject the drug below the skin. Self-injectable options include low molecular weight heparin and fondaparinux (Arixtra).
In other cases, a doctor may prescribe anticoagulants via intravenous infusion (IV). These can include:
2. Thrombolytic drugs
These medications work by targeting and dissolving blood clots. Thrombolytic drugs include:
What are the risks of anticoagulant and thrombolytic drugs?
Because of how these medications work, heavy or excessive bleeding is a possible side effect. Signs of this can include:
- noticing blood in either urine or poop
- severe bruising
- nosebleeds that last longer than 10 minutes
- noticing blood when coughing or vomiting
- sudden back pain
- breathing difficulties
- heavy or prolonged periods
If you experience these symptoms, consider contacting a doctor or healthcare professional for advice, as this can help prevent a medical emergency.
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3. Surgery to remove blood clots
If medications have little effect or are unsuitable for you, doctors may recommend a surgical procedure. Surgery options include:
Inferior vena cava filter
An inferior vena cava filter procedure involves inserting a filter into a large vein to trap or catch a blood clot on its way to the lungs.
The procedure is generally seen as safe. However, there’s a small chance of bacteria entering the bloodstream. There is also a slight chance of blood having difficulty clotting, making it more difficult to stop an injury or wound bleeding.
A surgical thrombectomy procedure most commonly removes blood clots from the brain, lungs, or heart. Surgeons will use various tools to suction and remove a clot.
As with any surgical procedure, some people may experience complications. These can include:
- high blood pressure
- heavy bleeding
- blockages in smaller blood vessels
- difficulty with blood clotting and stopping bleeding
4. Home remedies
If you think you have a blood clot or you receive a diagnosis, you may want to try some at-home treatments.
Some supplements and foods that may act as natural blood thinners include vitamin E and turmeric. However, there are no proven home remedies to date, and you should always seek and follow professional medical advice.
When to talk with a doctor
- a faster-than-usual or irregular heartbeat
- difficulty breathing
- chest pains that worsen with deep breaths
- coughing up blood
Additionally, consider seeking urgent care if you notice the following:
- swelling to your arms or legs
- tenderness or pain with no apparent cause
- skin that feels warm to the touch
- skin discoloration
Doctors may diagnose a blood clot in one of the following ways:
- Body scans: This could be via:
- X-ray: A special type of X-ray known as contrast venography can locate a blood clot. X-rays do not usually show veins, so this procedure uses a contrast dye to make the veins visible. The contrast dye enters the body via an IV. Next, multiple X-ray images will display veins and locate blood clots. While this is the most precise method of diagnosis, doctors prefer to use scans to avoid this more invasive procedure.
- Blood tests: Sometimes, blood tests can rule out blood clots.
Blood clot treatments aim to shrink or dissolve existing blood clots or prevent new clots from forming. Oral and injectable medications are available — and if they are not producing the expected results, there are surgical options, too.
People with a blood clot may have a higher risk of having another blood clot. You can read about ways to prevent blood clots here.
If you think you have a blood clot or have a blood clot diagnosis, it is important to get and follow medical guidance. This can help you avoid a medical emergency and keep you safe and well.
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