Secretary of State and former First Lady Hillary Clinton was recently hospitalized due to a blood clot found in her brain during a follow-up MRI. Dr. Bradley Close, an interventional radiologist at Suburban Imaging said a blood clot is like a cork or plug. “Whatever vessel the blood clot is in, the vessel is like a tube that has a plug blocking the blood flow,” he said.
Blood clots can occur in arteries (which carry oxygenated blood away from the heart), and veins (which carry de-oxygenated blood back to the heart). Blood clots can occur anywhere in the body, but most commonly forms in the legs, called Deep Vein Thrombosis, stated Dr. Close. “Sometimes the clot will move and travel to the lungs, which is called a pulmonary embolus (PE). PE can create shortness of breath and chest pain, and rarely can be fatal; it can usually be seen in a hospitalized patient,” he said. A blood clot can move to other places in the body, too. If it moves to the brain, it frequently causes stroke; a clot in the heart can cause a heart attack.
Dr. Close said three main factors contribute to the development of a blood clot:
1. Trauma to the vessel.
2. Slowing of the blood flow (called stasis or low flow), which is caused by not moving, long plane rides, etc.
3. Having an increased propensity to form a blood clot (called hypercoagulability), or from an underlying disorder of the blood or blood cells, like cancer.
Other predisposing factors for blood clots include oral contraceptives and smoking.
Signs of having a venous blood clot (one in your vein) include swelling, pain and changes in the color of your skin. An arterial (artery) blood clot can cause pain and coldness/coolness to the extremity. If you think you have a blood clot, Dr. Close advises that you be seen by your physician or go to the emergency room, depending on the severity of your symptoms.
Blood clots in the extremities (legs or arms) are best seen using ultrasound imaging, said Dr. Close. “If PE is suspected, they do a CAT scan. If the symptoms are referable to the brain, typically an MRI is performed,” he said.
At Suburban Imaging, we perform ultrasound, CT and MRI exams. Our radiologists are trained to find blood clots on imaging exams. If one is found, the referring doctor is notified immediately. It is important to treat the clot to prevent it from getting larger and from moving in the body, Dr. Close said. “Depending on the severity of the clot, treatment options include blood thinners, clot busting medication, and catheter directed removal of the clot.” Interventional radiologists such as Dr. Close perform catheter directed removal in a hospital setting.
To prevent blood clots from forming in the extremities, Dr. Close recommends staying active and keeping your weight under control as blood clots are more common in obese patients. Quitting smoking is another way to reduce your risk of blood clots.
Dr. Bradley Close is a board-certified interventional radiologist at Suburban Imaging. He is a specialist in vascular imaging and treatment. He performs minimally-invasive procedures using image guidance such as CT, ultrasound or fluoroscopy. At the hospital, he performs procedures such as biopsies, angioplasty, stenting, thrombolysis, tumor ablation and embolization.