How to detect a blood clot

Updated April 17, 2017

Blood clots form when blood coagulates and hardens inside a blood vessel or the heart. Sometimes, the clot may travel to another part of the body. When this happens, it is called an embolus. Untreated blood clots can cause tissue damage or death. Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, occurs when a clot develops in a large vein. The CDC estimates that as many as 600,000 Americans experience a DVT each year, with 100,000 of those cases causing death.

Speak with your doctor about your risk factors for blood clots and DVT. You may need testing to help detect blood clots early if you are at increased risk. Risk factors include immobility, recent injury or major surgery, previous clotting problems, obesity, smoking, increased oestrogen, age and certain medical conditions such as cancer and heart disease.

Watch for symptoms of blood clots and DVT and report them immediately to your doctor. Swelling, tenderness, pain and skin redness may indicate deep vein thrombosis. Symptoms of a blood clot in the lungs, or pulmonary embolism, include breathing difficulties, increased heart rate, chest pain, coughing up blood and low blood pressure. Small clots may cause no symptoms.

Visit your doctor for testing if you have risk factors or symptoms. Lung function tests, such as pulse oximetry and arterial blood gases, may be ordered to check for clots in the lungs or heart. Your doctor may also order chest X-rays, CAT scans, a pulmonary ventilation/perfusion scan or a pulmonary angiogram.

Undergo a doppler ultrasound examination to check for blood clots. Ultrasound tests use sound waves to examine the flow of blood through your veins. The results will be abnormal if a clot is slowing or stopping blood flow anywhere in your body.

Agree to venography, a test where your doctor injects dye into your veins to detect blood clots. Once the dye is in your circulatory system, X-rays will be taken to look for clotting.

Have an electrocardiogram, or ECG, done to check for heart strain caused by blood clots. This is a simple procedure that involves attaching electrodes to the skin to record the heart's electrical activity. An echocardiogram and chest MRI may also be done to evaluate your heart and help detect blood clots.

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