Blood Clot in the Hand: Symptoms, Signs & Treatment

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  • 0:00 Blood Clots
  • 1:00 How Clots Form
  • 2:03 Symptoms & Complications
  • 3:48 Treatment
  • 4:28 Prevention
  • 4:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

The hands are filled with tiny blood vessels that could be at risk of intercepting a blood clot. In this lesson, we'll learn about the signs and symptoms of blood clots in the hand, as well as ways to treat blood clots should they occur.

Blood Clots

Tracy had been experiencing frequent bouts of pain in her right hand, and she wasn't sure why. At first she wasn't too worried about it because the pain would go away, but eventually it started to get worse. Then one morning, Tracy woke up and found that her hand was red and itchy, and her fingers were bluish in color. Obviously, this wasn't a good sign, so Tracy got dressed and went to the emergency room.

In the emergency room, the doctor diagnosed Tracy with a blood clot in her hand and explained that she had likely been experiencing them for awhile now. He provided her with intravenous (IV) medication, and slowly the pain dissipated and her hand's color returned to normal. Though she was happy to be in the clear, Tracy couldn't help but wonder how to prevent another blood clot from forming. Tracy isn't alone in her worry about the harm blood clots can do.

How Clots Form

Under normal conditions, blood circulates as a liquid, at least unless the body has been wounded. For example, if you are hiking in the woods and you cut your arm on a tree branch, it might start bleeding. If you are healthy, it won't bleed long. The platelets and proteins found within the plasma, or liquid of the blood, bind together to make a mass at the site of the wound. This mass is a blood clot, whose function is to stop bleeding so the wound can heal. Once healing takes place, the blood clot dissolves naturally back into the body.

Wound recovery is an example of good clotting, but sometimes cells glob together and form blood clots that don't serve any purpose. Instead, the clot circulates through the body, where it can become dangerous if it gets lodged or stuck in a blood vessel. When this happens, blood flow is disrupted and sometimes blocked completely. The body's cells can't function without a continuous, fresh blood supply.

Symptoms & Complications

Now that you know a little more about blood clots, let's look at what happens when they form in your hands. The hands have small blood vessels as it is; if something happens that causes them to narrow even more, it can limit blood flow. If a blood vessel is already narrowed and a blood clot comes along, it can cause some problems.

Blood clots in the hand usually occur in arteries more often than in veins. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the cells of the body. Veins carry oxygen-depleted blood from the body back to the lungs. When an artery becomes blocked, the cells downstream lose their oxygen delivery system.

As Tracy found out, this can be painful. Blood clots in the hand can cause:

  • Changes in coloration - fingers may get pale, red, or blue in color
  • Hands or fingers may feel cold to the touch
  • Sudden pain or a tingling or burning sensation
  • Pain that occurs at rest
  • Pain that gets worse when the hands are cold or during times of emotional stress
  • Small, painful ulcers that develop on fingers
  • Itchiness
  • Fever

Once a clot has passed, blood flow to the affected area returns to normal, but unless the clot dissolves, it's possible it could get stuck somewhere else in the body. Of particular concern is a blood clot getting stuck in the lungs, heart, or brain.

If a blood clot stays lodged for a long time, it can cause tissue damage. When cells don't get enough oxygen they begin to die, so really, the affected region of the body literally begins to die. This sounds scary, but most blood clots in the hand can be treated successfully if identified early enough.

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