British Heart Foundation: Understanding blood clots
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Blood clots are gel-like clumps of blood which form in response to an injury or a cut. Blood clots can also prove dangerous if they form without a good reason and don’t dissolve naturally. A study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests the latter type can form during an intense workout after consuming a caffeine beverage.
Caffeine is a mainstay of the pre-workout regime because it increases energy and focus.
However, knocking it back before an acute episode may produce unwanted effects.
Researchers found that drinking caffeine increases coagulation during acute sessions of strenuous exercise, putting you at higher risk for blood clots.
Coagulation, also known as clotting, is the process by which blood changes from a liquid to a gel, forming a blood clot.
To arrive at this conclusion, the research team led two workout sessions for 48 young men with an average age of 23 and normal body mass index.
Study participants were given a beverage – first a placebo and later a caffeine-laden drink – before completing a challenging workout on an exercise bike. They then had their blood drawn.
The researchers observed that after consuming caffeine, coagulation levels were significantly higher, putting the study subjects at elevated risk of conditions such as heart attack, stroke, deep vein thrombosis, or pulmonary embolism.
The finding is disquieting but shouldn’t stop people abandoning their preferred exercise regime.
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“For most people, caffeine is safe, and so is exercise,” Paul Nagelkirk, PhD, the director of the Integrative Exercise Physiology Laboratory at Ball State University, told Runner’s World in 2019.
“Healthy adults who currently enjoy the benefits of caffeine as a pre-workout or pre-competition routine have little reason to worry about blood-clotting potential,” he added.
However, those with poor cardiovascular markers, such high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a history of smoking may wish to avoid caffeine surrounding their workout.
The link between caffeine and blood clot formation has been documented elsewhere.
This newspaper spoke to Professor Mark Whiteley, a consultant venous surgeon, about the possible causal mechanisms involved.
According to the professor, caffeine can dehydrate the body and this lays the groundwork for blood clots.
“Dehydration affects the constituents of the blood, making blood thicker and more ‘sticky’.”
He continued: “Blood flows at a slower rate in veins than in arteries. Therefore, being dehydrated can increase the chances of developing a blood clot in the veins.”
This is known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – a serious medical condition that increases the risk of complications, such as stroke.
DVT symptoms that require going to A&E include pain and swelling in the leg, breathlessness and chest pain.
General symptoms include:
- Throbbing or cramping pain in one leg (rarely both legs), usually in the calf or thigh
- Swelling in one leg (rarely both legs)
- Warm skin around the painful area
- Red or darkened skin around the painful area
- Swollen veins that are hard or sore when you touch them.
These symptoms can also happen in your arm or tummy if that’s where the blood clot is.
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