What is a Thrombus?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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A thrombus is a blood clot. When a person has a thrombus, blood hardens into clumps, leaving its typically liquid form and becoming a solid. This process is called coagulation. A thrombus forms inside a person's heart or in a blood vessel and remains in place. If it travels to another part of the body, it is then called an embolism.

A blood clot can be a very serious issue. This is because the clotted blood can block the flow of blood through the affected vessel. When blood flow is blocked, oxygen cannot flow to tissues that need it and a condition called ischemia can result. Without quick medical attention, these tissues can suffer irreparable damage and even die.

If a thrombus breaks away and travels through a blood vessel, the result can be devastating to a person's health. For example, a thrombus, called an embolism once it begins to move, can travel through the body to the heart and through the pulmonary artery. The resulting condition is called a pulmonary embolism.


A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot has traveled to block an artery in a person's lung. Often, these blood clots form far away in the legs, but they can form in the arms or the heart as well. This condition can be fatal. They are often the cause of death among those who are hospitalized and can even threaten the health of those who sit on airplanes for long periods of time. Blood clots can also cause such conditions as cerebral stokes and myocardial infarction.

There are many things that can cause a thrombus to form. Among them are strokes, heart attacks, pregnancy, prolonged bed rest, prolonged periods of sitting, injury and surgery. Some medications may make a person more prone to blood clots. Some people even have a family history of blood clots that makes them more susceptible.

Many people first hear the word thrombus in connection with deep vein thrombosis. This condition develops when a clot forms in a deep vein in a person's body. The condition is considered a serious threat because of the possibility that the blood clot will break free and move to the lungs or another organ. This can be fatal, though many deep vein thrombosis cases are resolved without medical treatment.

Deep vein thrombus is often treated with blood thinners, which are medications that make the blood less likely to clot. Clot busters may be used in serious cases and may be administered when a person has a pulmonary embolism as well. These medications are administered directly through a person's veins and work to break up the clots; unfortunately, these medications can cause a person too bleed too much. Filters are sometimes placed in larger veins in the abdomen to prevent traveling clots from reaching the lungs. In some cases, doctors even use special stockings, called compression stockings, to reduce pooling and clotting of the blood.


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