Arterial thrombosis occurs when a blood clot forms in an artery. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart to an organ.

Some blood clots form in veins, often in the legs or pelvis. When this happens, it is known as deep vein thrombosis.

Arterial thrombosis is similar to deep vein thrombosis, but it affects arteries, not veins. Arteries are typically larger and carry more blood.

Arterial thrombosis can cause life threatening events, such as heart attack or stroke.

This article will explain the symptoms that arterial thrombosis can cause. It will also discuss the possible causes, diagnosis process, treatment options, and outlook. It will also cover some conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

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The symptoms of arterial thrombosis depend on the location of the blood clot. Some symptoms of thrombosis may include:

However, many people will experience no symptoms of a blood clot in their artery until it has caused further complications by blocking the flow of blood to parts of the body.

Learn more about blood clot symptoms here.

Possible complications of arterial thrombosis and their symptoms may include:

Anyone can develop arterial thrombosis, but some people are more at risk.

The most likely cause of arterial thrombosis is artery damage due to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when a person has a buildup of plaque on the walls of their arteries.

The arteries then begin to narrow and harden, which increases a person’s risk of developing arterial thrombosis.

Learn more about atherosclerosis here.

According to one 2021 review, arterial thrombosis can occur in roughly 4% of people who are seriously ill with COVID-19.

The study goes on to say that people with arterial thrombosis and COVID-19 usually have symptoms. It can also affect more than one artery at a time.

A 2020 study mentions that this may be due to the following conditions, which can also develop in people who are critically ill with COVID-19:

  • reduced blood flow to the legs
  • injury to the myocardium, a heart muscle
  • hypercoagulability, which is when the blood clots more easily

The study recommends that doctors use blood thinning medications in people who are severely ill with COVID-19 to reduce the risk of blood clots in the veins or arteries.

Learn more about blood clots and COVID-19 here.

Coronavirus resources

For more advice on COVID-19 prevention and treatment, visit our coronavirus hub.

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A person’s behavioral habits and health conditions can put them at higher risk of developing arterial thrombosis.

Some risk factors that may cause a blood clot in an artery include:

A person should tell a doctor their complete medical history. They should also let the doctor know if they suspect that they may have a blood clot or have risk factors for developing one.

The doctor will complete a physical examination of the person to analyze their symptoms.

If the doctor suspects a heart attack, they may recommend a blood test to check for a protein called troponin.

To detect a clot, doctors usually recommend imaging studies to visualize the arteries. They may use ultrasound since a clot can change the sound of the arteries.

Electrocardiograms, which measure the heart’s electrical activity, may also indicate a block of the blood flow.

In some cases, a doctor may recommend more invasive procedures, such as an angiogram. An angiogram is an X-ray of the blood vessels. It involves threading a catheter through an artery in a person’s thigh, arm, or groin.

Doctors may recommend the following measures to treat arterial thrombosis:

Blood thinners

A doctor may prescribe blood thinners to help dissolve the clots. Specifically, they may give a person medications called thrombolytics as the first stage of treatment.

Thrombolytics are a group of stronger blood thinners that can dissolve a clot more quickly, but they can also cause dangerous bleeding.

Some people may need to continue taking these drugs to reduce the risk of developing another clot.

People who are about to give birth or have surgery may not be able to take these medications.

If the person has atherosclerosis, stroke, or heart attack, they may require lifelong treatment.


Types of surgery to treat arterial thrombosis if it is blocking an artery to the heart include coronary artery bypass and carotid endarterectomy.

In coronary artery bypass surgery, surgeons take a blood vessel from another part of the body to bypass the block. In carotid endarterectomy, surgeons remove the fatty deposits in the neck arteries that could cause a person to have a stroke.

Doctors may also recommend an interventional procedure called a coronary angioplasty, which does not involve an incision. Surgeons may implant a stent or balloon to widen the artery.

Addressing the cause

It is also important to address the underlying cause of blood clots.

For example, according to one 2016 study, a blood clot might be a symptom of cancer in people with no risk factors.

Behavioral changes

Other people might need to make behavioral or dietary changes to reduce plaque in their arteries.

Learn about unblocking the arteries with behavioral changes here.

When blood clots cause complications, a person might need additional treatment.

Arterial thrombosis is very dangerous, and it can cause fatal complications. However, the outlook is much better with treatment.

To improve their outlook, a person can:

  • implement any behavioral changes a doctor has recommended
  • follow a doctor’s instructions and take their medications exactly as directed
  • let a doctor know if clot symptoms change or get worse

A person should contact a doctor immediately if they have a history of clots and develop any new clot symptoms.

A person should go to the emergency room if they experience:

A number of conditions may be related to arterial thrombosis. These include:

  • Bruise: A bruise refers to damage to the shallow blood vessels in the skin. It happens when something causes bleeding under the skin. A severe blow to the body may cause damage to deeper blood vessels, increasing the risk of blood clots.
  • Hemorrhoids: A hemorrhoid is a swollen, bulging blood vessel in the anus or rectum. It can cause bleeding during a bowel movement, pain, and swelling. A thrombosed hemorrhoid occurs when sacs in the anal passage move outside the anus and fill with blood clots.
  • Deep vein thrombosis: Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot in a vein instead of an artery. The risk factors are similar, and most people get them in their legs. Without treatment, the clot can break loose and travel to the lungs, causing an embolism.
  • Nephrotic syndrome: Nephrotic syndrome is a type of kidney disease. It causes the kidneys to filter the blood less effectively, causing protein to appear in the urine. In most cases, damage to the blood vessels of the kidneys causes this condition. Nephrotic syndrome can cause blood clots.

Arterial thrombosis may be life threatening.

People who think that they have one should not delay treatment, even if they are not sure or only have a few risk factors. Receiving prompt treatment can save a person’s life.