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Shedding light on clots

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By Prof. Moses Galukande

It is fairly well known now that when blood clots in our blood vessels, it is a potentially life threatening condition. And many people have lost their lives on the account of clots formation in the blood vessels. For the most part this can be prevented.

How common is it?

Whereas in the past it was thought to be less common in Africa, we have lately seen a surge. Clots are more likely in Africa in people who have just had surgery, child birth and pregnancy. Globally it is estimated that up to 2 million people annually will develop this potentially life threatening condition.

What are they?

Blood is a thick fluid that has several components that would be prone to getting stuck inside our vessels but through complex well-coordinated mechanisms including naturally occurring blood thinners it is able to flow seamlessly through the vessels back and fro, up and down.

Clotting is a useful process designed to prevent one from bleeding to death should a blood vessel get opened up.

How do clots form?

Blood clots form when blood loses its fluidity and tends towards a partially solid state (gel-like) and gets stuck in parts of veins or arteries or plugs them.

There are three factors that contribute to clot formation. One, the fluidity of the blood, the thicker it gets the more likely to clot, and a number of things can lead to this. Two, the vessels through which the blood flows, damage to the vessel walls trigger clots formation, for example uncontrolled high blood pressure damages vessel walls. Three, the speed with which the blood flows in the vessels, with sluggish flow the risk goes up, as in when one stays in one place for a long time without moving.

Where do clots form and move to?

The more deadly forms of clots are those that form in the deep veins of the legs, dislodge and move to the lungs (medical term is Pulmonary Embolism (PE).   In the lung, these clots block arteries and prevent oxygen delivery to vital organs. Clots may plug a vessel in the brain (stroke), the intestines (causing part of the intestines to die off), the kidneys and limbs.

How deadly are clots?

When clots form inside the vessels the body often attempts to dissolve them naturally, they only become dangerous when the natural dissolution fails or delays. Clots plug vessels partially or completely and restrict blood flow, decrease oxygen levels in the blood, and spark off a whole cascade of events. Large or multiple blood clots can be fatal.

How do you know you got a clot in the lungs?

Sudden shortness of breath that isn’t caused by exercise, chest pain, palpitations (rapid heart rate).

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