Blood Clot in the Arm: Symptoms, Signs & Treatment

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

We will be discussing some of the signs and symptoms that are associated with blood clots in the arms. Treatment options for blood clots in the arm will also be described.

Blood Clot in the Arm

We rely on our arms to reach things that we need. Perhaps you use your arms for playing catch. We definitely use our arms when it is time to eat. After all, we want to be able to get to that steak that looks so good! Considering all of the uses for our arms, it would probably get your attention pretty quickly if something were to go wrong with one of them.

A blood clot that forms and stays in place is a thrombus, while a blood clot that is in the bloodstream is an embolus. Both of these can end up in your arm. When they do, they will cause a few different things to happen.

An embolus is a blood clot in the bloodstream
Diagram showing blood clot formation

Signs and Symptoms

One thing that will happen to let you know there is a blood clot in your arm is that the arm will become very warm to the touch. This is due to the accumulation of blood behind the blood clot. Keep in mind that our blood is hot, so a lot of it in one area is going to cause the temperature in that area to increase.

Something else you may notice is that the color of the arm with a blood clot is different from usual. It may appear red or bluish-purple, similar to how it does when you have a bruise. The arm may appear pale in color in front of the blood clot due to a lack of blood flow to that part of the arm.

That area of the arm behind the blood clot is going to swell as well. This is due to two reasons. First, the accumulation of blood behind the blood clot causes the blood vessel itself to swell. Second, fluid from the bloodstream is going to enter the tissues around the blood vessel and make the tissues swell.

Pain can almost always be expected whenever something is wrong with some part of the body. The area where the blood clot is located will cause pain first. Then the pain will spread to more or all of the arm as the blood clot gets bigger or the longer the clot stays in the arm.

The other symptom you will likely experience is a loss of sensation (such as numbness or tingling) in the part of the arm in front of the blood clot. This is due to the loss of blood flow to the area. You have probably felt this before if you ever felt your arm or hand 'go to sleep' due to you leaning or resting on it for too long.

Treatments

The goals for treating blood clots in the arm are to dissolve the current blood clots and prevent new ones from forming. The first way to do this is to use anticoagulants, which are medications that keep the blood from clotting and keep current clots from getting any bigger. These are often called blood thinners.

Antiplatelets are medications that also help to dissolve current clots and keep new ones from forming. These are usually used in conjunction with anticoagulants in order to combat the blood clots in the arm two different ways.

Another way to treat blood clots is to change to a diet high in fiber and low in fat and sodium. This will prevent some of the causes of blood clot formation and can aid in the quest to dissolve current clots. More water should also be consumed as part of this diet.

Exercising, especially the arm, is a key way to prevent blood clots from forming in the arm in the future. Our muscles do a great job of keeping our blood flowing, which will reduce the chances of blood clot formation.

One of the main causes of blood clot formation is high blood pressure, so treating high blood pressure is a key way to treat blood clots in the arm. Taking blood pressure medications and avoiding smoking are important ways to lower your blood pressure and chances of blood clots in the arm.

An embolectomy may used to treat blood clots in the arm
Diagram of an embolectomy

In the event that the blood clot in the arm does not dissolve with the above treatments, then other procedures may be necessary. One option is to do a thrombolysis procedure, which is the manual breakdown of a blood clot. The other option is to do the surgical removal of a blood clot, known as embolectomy.

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