One life-threatening outcome of a clotting disorder is an embolism. An embolism is a piece of a clot that breaks off and travels though the bloodstream, causing obstruction in a distant organ. If the blood clot should travel to the lungs, it is called a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism hinders blood from reaching parts of the lungs, where the blood is oxygenated. A pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening medical emergency. An embolism to the brain is another serious medical condition that can lead to a stroke.
Genetic disorders increase the chance of an embolism. But not all risk factors for embolism are genetic, however. Other conditions, including pregnancy, lupus, irritable bowel syndrome and hormone replacement therapy, increase the risk of embolism.
Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome (APS) and Lupus. Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (APS) is often associated with the autoimmune disease lupus. Although it is an autoimmune disease in its own right, APS occurs when the immune system generates antibodies that attack some of the body’s own blood proteins. Since antiphospholipid antibody syndrome leads to destruction of certain blood proteins, the chance of abnormal coagulation and clot formation increases.
APS is associated with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), but is can also exist by itself. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of connec-tive tissue. The majority of lupus cases are in women. Follow the link for more detailed information about lupus and current lupus clinical trials.
A blood test for the presence of anti-cardiolipin (a phospholipid) may indicate the presence of antiphospholipid antibody syndrome. In addition to pulmonary embolism, APS complications include strokes, frequent miscarriages, and heart disorders.
Pregnancy alters many aspects of a woman’s body chemistry, including hemostasis. Blood coagulation factors rise during pregnancy, and the enlarged uterus slows pelvic blood circulation. As a result, pregnancy increases the risk of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. These risks also increase immediately after pregnancy during the postpartum period.
Women who have a history of deep vein thrombosis are 3.5 times more at risk of developing an embolism during pregnancy, and should be aware of possible deep vein thrombosis symptoms.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
HRT has been linked to an increase in clot formation in postmenopausal women. While the average incidence for deep vein thrombosis in women is 1 in 10,000, women undergoing HRT have an incidence of 3 in 10,000. This increased risk occurs for oral estrogen HRT and combined estrogen / progestin HRT.
While HRT does increase the chance of having a clot, it should be noted that the risk increases only slightly, and may not outweigh the benefits of hormone therapy. More information on the risks and benefits of HRT is available on the hormone replacement therapy site.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Having irritable bowel syndrome also increases the risk for developing clots. Irritable bowel syndrome is a broad term that includes the autoimmune diseases Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Complications for both diseases include blood coagulation imbalances and clot formation.
Deep Vein Thrombosis Risk Factors
APS (antiphospholipid antibody syndrome)
HRT (hormone replacement therapy)
irritable bowel syndrome
long airplane flights or other prolonged periods of inactivity
lupus (an autoimmune disease)