Thrombosis Versus Embolism: What's The Difference Between These Types Of Blood Clots?

Blood clots form when blood cells, proteins, and clot-inducing platelets stick together to form a jelly-like clump (via MedlinePlus). Not all blood clots are harmful. Clots that form in wounds to prevent excess blood loss are beneficial. However, clots that start without good reason are often referred to as either thrombosis or embolism, and together, they affect around 900,000 Americans each year. What's the difference between thrombosis and embolism blood clots?

According to WebMD, both thrombosis and embolism occur when a blood clot forms and blocks a blood vessel with no injury present. The clot forms a blockage in the circulatory system that reduces or blocks blood flow. It can lead to potentially serious complications that may require medical attention. There are various types of thrombosis and embolism, and each can cause different complications requiring other interventions. Blood clots can present different or similar signs and symptoms, and they are impacted by various risk factors.

Differences between venous thrombosis, arterial thrombosis, and embolism

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, veins carry blood from the body into the heart. If a blood clot happens in a vein, it is called venous thrombosis. Arteries carry blood from the heart into the body. When thrombosis occurs in an artery, it is an arterial thrombosis. Arterial thrombosis may occur due to arteriosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries caused by plaque build-up inside artery walls. Arterial thrombosis may lead to a heart attack or stroke, and symptoms may be similar, including weakness or numbing on one side of the body, chest pain, and sudden, unexplained changes in mental state.

Venous thrombosis can be caused by extended periods of immobility or obesity, autoimmune disorders, genetic predisposition, or certain medicines. Dr. Luis Sanchez of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis notes that deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in the legs is the most common type of venous thrombosis. It can cause serious illness, disability, and in some cases, death. Symptoms of DVT include tenderness, pain, cramping, swelling, or skin color changes. The Mayo Clinic warns untreated DVT can lead to pulmonary embolism (PE), which occurs when a blood clot travels into the lung. PE may cause shortness of breath, severe chest pain, and coughing with bloody sputum.

DVT and PE are often preventable and treatable (via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). If you experience any symptoms of thrombosis or embolism, you should seek help immediately.