Blood Clots

What are blood clots? What does a blood clot look like?

Blood is a liquid that flows within blood vessels. It is constantly in motion as the heart pumps blood through arteries to the different organs and cells of the body. The blood is returned back to the heart by the veins. Veins are squeezed when muscles in the body contract and push the blood back to the heart.

Blood clotting is an important mechanism to help the body repair injured blood vessels. Blood consists of:

  • red blood cells containing hemoglobin that carry oxygen to cells and remove carbon dioxide (the waste product of metabolism),
  • white blood cells that fight infection,
  • platelets that are part of the clotting process of the body, and
  • blood plasma, which contains fluid, chemicals and proteins that are important for bodily functions.

Complex mechanisms exist in the bloodstream to form clots where they are needed. If the lining of the blood vessels becomes damaged, platelets are recruited to the injured area to form an initial plug. These activated platelets release chemicals that start the clotting cascade, using a series of clotting factors produced by the body. Ultimately, fibrin is formed, the protein that crosslinks with itself to form a mesh that makes up the final blood clot.

The medical term for a blood clot is a thrombus (plural=thrombi). When a thrombus is formed as part of a normal repair process of the body, there is little consequence. Unfortunately, there are times when a thrombus (blood clot) will form when it is not needed, and this can have potentially significant consequences.

Reviewed on 7/10/2014
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