When you live with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), you have a lot of health concerns to watch out for.
First there’s the chronic inflammation of your digestive tract. You never know when you may experience a painful flare that makes you feel awful and prevents your body from getting the nutrition it needs. There’s also the weight loss and diarrhea. And there’s the increased risk of colon cancer.
But that’s not all. IBD triples your risk of a life-threatening clot.
These clots can develop in your lower legs or even your lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism.
And while this is something the medical community was aware of, research is now revealing risk factors for these clots that were previously unknown and that could up that risk even more.
Who is at risk for a blood clot?
In general, there are a number of factors that can increase your chances of ending up with a dangerous blood clot forming in your body when you have IBD. These include:
- Flare-ups — The more severe your IBD is, the more likely you are to suffer a clot. And this means that if your condition flares up, your risk of clots flares up with it.
- Hospitalization — When you’re stuck in the hospital, it’s often due to a flare-up that raises your risk. And to top it off, being stuck in bed adds another level of clot risk.
- Surgery — Inflammation in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract can lead to surgery and a higher worry of accompanying clots.
- Age — Increasing age and increasing clot risk go hand in hand.
- Pregnancy — Being pregnant is another factor that puts you at higher risk of a blood clot.
- Medications — Some medications carry a side effect of blood clot risk. In fact, steroids, often used to tamp down inflammation, can make someone with IBD up to five times more likely to get a blood clot.
And now, scientists from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center have published research in the journal Gastroenterology proving that genetics (a factor that has been previously overlooked) also plays a role in determining if you end up with a blood clot thanks to your IBD.
In a retrospective study, researchers used whole genome sequencing and genotyping to assess 792 IBD patients to compare their risk of an embolism. The investigators found that a combination of rare and common genetic variants in some IBD patients significantly increased their risk of developing clot-causing thromboembolic diseases.
In fact, they found that having a specific genetic signature could more than double the risk of developing potentially fatal blood clots in approximately one in seven IBD patients.
The team also discovered that patients who had both the rare and common genetic markers developed more serious thromboembolic diseases.
Keeping your blood flowing
This means that if you’re living with IBD, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the role your genetics could be playing in your blood clot risk.
According to Dermot P. McGovern, M.D., Ph.D., the Joshua L. and Lisa Z. Greer Chair in Inflammatory Bowel Disease Genetics and the study’s senior author, “Understanding the influence of the small and large genetic variants we identified would enable physicians to provide more precise or personalized medical care. For example, it might be wise to provide regular anticoagulant therapy for some IBD patients or to avoid using certain therapeutic drugs.”
So, make sure you and your doctor communicate about this issue and take steps now to maintain healthy blood flow, including:
- Managing your IBD — Fewer flare-ups help lower your clot risk so be sure to work with your doctor to better manage and control your conditions, as well as the inflammation it causes.
- Staying active — Lack of exercise causes your blood flow to slow down, raising your risk. Stay active and get regular exercise to keep your blood moving.
- Eating a healthy diet — Preventing clots also requires ensuring you get the important nutrients you need in your daily diet. Choose a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains and fatty fish.
- Maintain healthy blood flow — Even if you doctor doesn’t think you need blood thinners yet, you can include nutrients known to work against clots, like vitamin K2 and an enzyme called nattokinase found in fermented soy.
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