The risk of a blood clot traveling around the body is highest within the first 4 weeks after it initially forms. However, health experts are unsure of exactly how long it takes for a blood clot to travel around the body.
The above timeframe comes from an older 2014 article from the American Heart Association’s journal,
A blood clot happens when various substances form a solid mass inside the blood vessels. These clots can form in one part of the body before breaking off from an artery or vein. The circulatory system can then carry this blood clot to blood vessels in different parts of the body.
In some cases, this can cause serious health problems. For instance, blood clots that originate in veins can travel to the lungs, leading to pulmonary embolism (PE). Blood clots that originate in the arteries can travel to the brain, causing a stroke.
This article explores how long it takes for a blood clot to travel. It also discusses possible signs that a blood clot is traveling and describes the treatment, outlook, and prevention for blood clots and their complications.
Before a blood clot can travel, it must first break loose from the blood vessel it developed in.
An older paper in Circulation states that, on average, the risk of a blood clot breaking off is highest within the
It is difficult to know how long blood clots take to travel around the body. This is because blood clots can remain asymptomatic for some time. Some blood clots only cause symptoms after traveling to a different body part, such as the lungs or brain.
According to a 2022 review, scientists consider a blood clot to be acute if it starts causing symptoms
Learn about what causes blood clots.
A person will not feel a blood clot traveling around their circulatory system. However, they may experience the following symptoms if the clot reaches the lungs or brain.
- shortness of breath
- sharp chest pain that worsens when breathing in
- back pain
- cough, which may contain blood
- excessive sweating
- blue lips or nails
Learn about the different types of pulmonary embolism.
The symptoms of stroke include:
- facial drooping
- arm weakness
- speech difficulty
- numbness or weakness in the arm, face, or leg
- difficulty with vision
- difficulty walking
- severe headache
Learn more about how a stroke feels.
According to a 2016 review, factors that increase the risk of a blood clot traveling through the body include:
If a person notices the signs and symptoms of a blood clot, they should contact a doctor. Treating a blood clot can help prevent the blood clot from causing complications.
- wearing compression stockings
- thrombolytic therapy (drugs that dissolve blood clots)
- surgery to remove the clot
- vena cava filter, which involves inserting a filter into the large vein in the abdomen
Learn more about managing blood clots:
The treatment for a blood clot that has traveled depends upon where the blood clot has traveled to. For instance, if a blood clot travels to the lungs, it could cause PE.
According to the
If a blood clot travels to the brain, it could cause an ischemic stroke. According to the
Because strokes can cause brain damage, people who have had a stroke may require long-term rehabilitation.
Learn about recovery from a blood clot in the lungs.
The outlook for people whose blood clot travels depends on where the blood clot ends up.
According to a 2022 review, untreated PE is fatal in around
A person should contact a doctor if they notice any signs or symptoms of a blood clot. These include:
- swelling that typically develops in one arm or leg
- pain or tenderness around the clot
- skin discoloration
- skin that is warm to the touch
It is important that a person seeks emergency medical attention if they experience any signs and symptoms of PE or stroke.
Scientists do not know exactly how long it takes for blood clots to move around the body. However, they do know that blood clots tend to come loose within 4 weeks of forming. During this time, the clots are still fragile.
Doctors treat PE and ischemic strokes with medications that dissolve blood clots. They may also recommend medications that help prevent future clots from forming.