Why do Blood Clots Form, Even in Athletes?

September 1, 2020 Dr Zil

Blood clots are something we often associate with illness. Usually, you need to be older, overweight or unhealthy to form clots, or so we often think. The truth is that the reason why blood clots form is not limited to ill-health or poor lifestyles, but a wide range of factors that can affect anyone from an elderly patient in the hospital, to a young healthy athlete.

What are blood clots?

Blood clots occur when platelets in your bloodstream join with red blood cells to form a solid. Most of the time clots are good, forming to restore damaged vein walls after injury, for example. However, there is a range of factors which can cause clots to occur when they shouldn’t, leading to more serious issues, including DVT and pulmonary embolism.

While lifestyle factors like smoking, excess weight or obesity, low levels of activity and more can lead to issues relating to blood clots, there is plenty of reason for everyone to be wary, no matter your level of fitness.

 

Progression of deep vein thrombosis

 

Why do blood clots form?

It doesn’t matter how fit you are, you can still be at risk of a serious clot. Serena Williams is arguably one of the greatest tennis players alive, and in 2011 she suffered from a DVT which caused a pulmonary embolism that almost cost her her life. In fact, every year two in every 500 adults will develop an abnormal clot like a DVT.

The most common causes of blood clots are:

  • Extended periods sitting down (Like bus, plane and car travel). Read more: Preventing varicose veins during long haul travel.
  • Significant trauma, like a hard blow to the leg or a bad fall.
  • Immobilisation, such as a plaster cast or completely rigid brace.
  • Dehydration after activity.
  • Surgery or bone fracture.
  • Birth control pills.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Genetic history.

As you can see, a wide range of factors can cause blood clots, across all lifestyles and levels of fitness.

What can I do about a blood clot?

While these facts may be daunting, it’s important to know that there are things which can be done to minimise your chances of developing a DVT, some key examples are:

  • Stretching and mobility: Whenever you’re sitting down or standing still for extended periods of time (Like office-work, cooking, hospitality), your risk increases. By stretching the muscles and moving around every 30-40 minutes, you keep everything moving and the blood circulates more effectively in your legs.
  • Compression Stockings: If you’re travelling in a car or plane for any reasonable distance (generally 6+ hours), you stand or sit all day at work, or you have a family history of blood clots; wearing medical-grade compression stockings is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself and encourage healthy blood flow. Compression stockings are available at The Vein Institute Shop.
  • Lifestyle: It’s easy to look at lifestyle and consider yourself fine, however being even a bit overweight, a poor diet or smoking will all increase your odds of developing a clot. By exercising daily, eating more proteins and less cholesterol, or quitting smoking, you can help lower the risk of DVT significantly.
  • Know your risk: If you have a family history of clots, high-risk conditions like May-Thurner Syndrome, or do a lot of travelling for work, it’s worth seeing a GP to assess and discuss your risk of a clot, and developing a plan on how to minimise the risk.
  • Treatment: In most cases DVT, once diagnosed, can be effectively treated using anticoagulant medications, such as heparin and warfarin. For some cases, “clot-busting” thrombolytic agents are used, and in rare cases, surgery may be required.
  • Early diagnosis: The Vein Institute can diagnose the presence of blood clots using Duplex ultrasound or venography (injecting a dye into the vein that then reveals blockages in X-rays). Your vein doctor can also recommend diet and lifestyle changes to reduce your DVT risk if your risk level is high for hereditary or other reasons.

Seek expert advice

The doctors at The Vein Institute specialise in varicose vein treatment. We offer patients a comprehensive treatment program to treat varicose veins, with non-surgical laser treatment techniques. The benefits of laser treatment to patients are;

  • Walk-in walk-out treatment
  • 98% success rate
  • Extremely effective
  • Can be performed at a clinic (no hospitalisation)
  • No general anaesthetic
  • Medicare rebates apply
  • No downtime or time away from work

To book a consultation and discuss our treatment program, call  1300 535 017. Or, make an enquiry via the Contact Us page.