Difference Between Blood Clot and Embolism (With Table)

Blood remains in a liquid state in the body but can form clots. It is a crucial feature that can terminate unnecessary blood loss but if the clot forms in a healthy blood vessel, then it can lead to a fatal medical condition. Blood clot and embolism have the same function but at different sites.

Blood clot vs Embolism

The main difference between a blood clot and embolism is that a blood clot is a stationary clump of blood in the blood vessel while an embolism is an intravascular blood clot that is mobile or floating in the blood vessel. The clot of blood in thrombosis is called thrombus while the clump of blood in embolism is called an embolus.

A blood clot is also called thrombosis. It is mainly caused due to injury, hypercoagulability, abnormal blood flow, or due to genetic error in the clotting mechanism of the body. The two main types of blood clots are venous thrombosis and arterial thrombosis.

While embolism is caused due to tear of muscle, atherosclerosis, or even a sedentary lifestyle. Embolism can form at various sites in the body and the treatment varies according to the severity and the site. Some common types of embolism can form in the liver, heart, kidney, or brain.

Comparison Table Between Blood Clot and Embolism

Parameters of ComparisonBlood ClotEmbolism
CauseCause Due to injury to endothelial cells, abnormal blood flow, immobility, blood sugar, drugs, malignancy, high cholesterol, hypercoagulability or genetic errors Due to muscle tears, bone fractures, sedentary lifestyle, atherosclerosis, mitral stenosis, atrial fibrillation, or from treatments like chemotherapy
TypesVenous thrombosis and arterial thrombosis Pulmonary embolism, arterial embolism, air embolism, fat embolism, gas embolism, amniotic fluid embolism
SymptomsShortness of breath, chest pain or angina, reduced blood flow to limbs and decreased strength and temperature of the limb (arm or leg), pain, ache or swelling in the calf and the skin of the leg may turn red and warm Chest pain or pressure, palpitations, hemoptysis, sweating, fainting, dizziness or difficulty in breathing or tachypnea, headache, pain in the lungs, muscle weakness or numbness
DiagnosisDuplex ultrasonography, D-dimer blood test, venography, MRI scan is used to detect blood clot Blood tests, chest X-ray, ultrasound, CT pulmonary angiography, V/Q scan, and MRI are some of the tests to detect embolism
TreatmentHeparin and anticoagulants are the medications prescribed and use of devices like compression stockings Medications like anticoagulants, thrombin inhibitors, antiplatelet, thrombolytics, and other sedatives and painkillers to provide ease and control the growth

What is Blood Clot?

Blood clots are a typical response towards a wound and help in the healing and recovering process. But blood clot commonly known as thrombosis is the formation of a blood clot in a blood vessel. The clot is usually stationary, can obstruct blood flow, and interrupt the functioning of other blood vessels. Blood clot or thrombus is widely classified into two types: venous thrombosis and arterial thrombosis.

There can be several causes of a blood clot while the three major causes include injury to an endothelial cell, hypercoagulability or thrombophilia, and abnormal or uncontrollable blood flow. A clot in organs like the liver, brain, or kidney is due to genetic errors. A blood clot can further cause several other complications like hypoxia or atherosclerosis.

Patients with arterial thrombosis usually experience shortness of breath, chest pain, or angina, and can reduce blood flow to limbs and decrease the strength and temperature of the limb (arm or leg). Patients with venous thrombosis may experience pain, ache, or swelling in the calf and the skin of the leg may turn red and warm.

Certain precautions can keep blood clots at bay like regular exercise for individuals with a sedentary lifestyle and healthy diet. Heparin and anticoagulants are beneficial in the treatment of blood clots or thrombosis.

What is Embolism?

Embolism is also known as thromboembolism is a blood clot that is mobile or floating. It is a broken clot called an embolus, from some other location in the body and travels in the bloodstream. It can causes blockage and obstructs blood flow to limbs, lungs, or other organs.

Embolism can be caused by several reasons but the main reason is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). Other reasons could be anomalies in vena cava, diabetes, atherosclerosis, atrial fibrillation, endocarditis, and mitral stenosis. In DVT, the clots are generally in the veins of the legs. Embolism can also block an artery of the brain, kidney, or liver. An embolus in the lungs is called a pulmonary embolism.

The symptoms of an embolism depend on the severity and location of the floating clot. Symptoms like chest pain, palpitations, hemoptysis, sweating, fainting, dizziness, or difficulty in breathing or tachypnea can be of a clot in the coronary vessels.

Embolism can lead to serious complications like hypoxia, organ failure, stroke, amputation, myocardial infarction (heart attack), or sudden death. Precautions like regular exercise, a healthy diet, and quitting drugs and addiction can control the formations. Various anticoagulants, antiplatelet and thrombolytic medications are used in the treatment. In severe cases, surgery is also done.

Main Differences Between Blood Clot and Embolism

  1. Blood clot is a clump of blood that is stationary while an embolism is a blood clot that is mobile and floating.
  2. The clot of blood in thrombosis is called a thrombus while the clot of blood in embolism is called an embolus.
  3. Blood clot is caused by injury or abnormal blood flow while embolism is caused by muscle tears, fractures or atherosclerosis.
  4. The symptoms of a blood clot include shortness of breath, chest pain, reduced blood flow to limbs and decreased strength, pain in the calf while the symptoms of embolism include palpitations, hemoptysis, sweating, difficulty in breathing, and headache.
  5. The tests and scans to detect thrombosis include duplex ultrasonography, D-dimer blood test, venography, MRI scan is used to detect blood clots while those to detect embolism are blood tests, chest X-ray, ultrasound, CT pulmonary angiography, V/Q scans.

Conclusion

Blood clot and Embolism sound similar as both form blood clots, but differ in their origin and site of formation. Also blood clot or thrombus is stationary while embolus is a broken blood clot and it floats in the blood stream.

Both the clots compose of fibrin and platelets. Apart from genetic errors, both anomalies can form due to a sedentary lifestyle. Hence, it is essential to exercise regularly, have a healthy diet, and regularly get a checkup as most diseases don’t show major symptoms.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2539330/
  2. https://pubs.asahq.org/anesthesiology/article-abstract/97/3/671/40254
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