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Alcohol and Health

Can Alcohol Cause Blood Clots?

April 17, 2024
16 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
April 17, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Alcohol and Blood Clots: What’s the Connection?

  • Alcohol thins our blood and can increase our chance of having a severe bleed or a hemorrhagic stroke.

  • Preventing and managing alcohol-related blood clot risks involves a combination of lifestyle changes, medical interventions, and close monitoring.

  • Reframe can help you quit or cut back on alcohol so you can optimize your health and reduce your risk of developing a stroke or heart attack.

Picture this: It's Friday evening, the workweek is finally winding down, and you're looking forward to kicking back with a refreshing drink in hand. But before you reach for a glass of your favorite beverage, have you ever wondered about the potential impact alcohol might have on your health?

In this article, we’ll explore the connection between alcohol consumption and blood clot formation. We will cover how blood clots form, how alcohol impacts our blood, and whether we should be drinking alcohol if we have a blood clot.   

Blood Clot Basics

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Blood clots are a group or mass of blood cells and other substances that form in our blood vessels. Usually, we get blood clots to protect us from bleeding out when we injure our blood vessels as from a cut or surgery. After the injury is healed, our body naturally dissolves the clots. Although usually helpful, sometimes our blood will clot when it is not needed, which can lead to dangerous outcomes. 

We can get blood clots anywhere in our body. There are two main types of clots:

  • Thrombus: Also known as a thrombosis, a thrombus is a stationary blood clot that can block blood flow. 

  • Embolus: Often called an embolism, an embolus is a blood clot that can break loose and travel to other parts of the body.

Blood clots can lead to life-threatening conditions, including heart attack, stroke, and pulmonary embolism. Symptoms of blood clots differ based on their location. Let’s review some common types of blood clots and the associated symptoms: 

  • Arms or legs. Clots in the veins of our arms or legs are called deep vein thrombosis. We may notice that there is redness and warming where the clot is, and we may feel swelling, tenderness, and intense cramping in the area. 

  • Abdomen. Clotting in the abdomen will lead to serious stomach pain, diarrhea, or vomiting. 

  • Heart. If a clot blocks or reduces blood flow to the heart, the result is a heart attack. Signs of heart attack include chest pain, cold sweat, fatigue, heartburn, nausea, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and discomfort in the shoulder, arm, back, neck, or jaw.

  • Lungs. Lack of blood flow to the lungs is known as a pulmonary embolism. If we have a pulmonary embolism, we may cough up blood or notice a racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, fever, or sharp chest pain. 

  • Brain. Clotting that blocks blood flow to the brain results in a stroke. Common symptoms include numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech, walking problems, dizziness, balance problems, or severe headaches. 

If you notice any of these symptoms or think you might have a blood clot, seek immediate medical attention! Time is crucial when addressing blood clots; the sooner we seek help, the better. 

Risks for Developing Blood Clots

There are certain conditions, both inherited and developed, that can increase our risk of developing blood clots. Let’s review a few inherited factors: 

  • Factor V Leiden. An inherited condition, Factor V increases our chances of developing a blood clot, specifically a deep vein thrombosis, that can lead to a pulmonary embolism. 
  • Prothrombin Gene Mutation. Similar to Factor V, prothrombin gene mutation is an inherited condition that increases the risk for deep vein thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism. 

  • Antiphospholipid Syndrome. Antiphospholipid syndrome is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks proteins in our body, making it more likely to get blood clots in our arteries or veins. 

Even if we don’t inherit clotting conditions, other factors can increase our chances of throwing a clot: 

  • Age. Those of us over the age of 65 are more likely to develop blood clots because, as we age, our coagulation proteins increase faster than our anticoagulant factors. 

  • Obesity. Being obese predisposes us to clots because it can alter our coagulation system by increasing plasma concentrations of clotting factors. 

  • Birth control. Hormonal birth control that contains estrogen can increase the levels of coagulation factors and decrease the anticoagulant proteins in our blood and lead to blood clots. 

  • Pregnancy. During pregnancy, our bodies increase estrogen levels to help maintain a healthy pregnancy. As with the case of birth control, increased estrogen enhances our risk of developing clots. 

  • Smoking. Smoking makes blood platelets more sticky and prone to clump together. Smoking can also damage the lining of blood vessel walls, increasing our chances of having a clot. 

  • Inactivity. Not moving for long periods can decrease blood flow and increase our chances of getting a deep vein thrombosis in our legs.

Pairing risk factors with genetic conditions or having multiple risk factors can increase our chances of getting a blood clot.  

How Does Alcohol Impact Blood?

In the short term, alcohol enters our bloodstream and raises our blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Short-term alcohol use can temporarily impact our blood: 

  • Thins our blood. Alcohol impacts the blood cell’s ability to clot by reducing the number of platelets in the blood and making the platelets less sticky. 

  • Dilates our blood vessels. When we first consume alcohol our blood vessels dilate or widen. This makes us feel warm and decreases our blood pressure.   

  • Decreases our blood pressure. As our blood vessels dilate, our blood pressure decreases because the systemic vascular resistance is reduced, increasing blood flow.  

Long-term alcohol use can permanently alter our blood: 

  • Decreases red blood cells. Over time, alcohol intake decreases the bone marrow's ability to make red blood cells by lowering the number of red blood cell precursor cells in our bone marrow. 
  • Decreases platelets or white blood cells. Long-term alcohol use suppresses the bone marrow from making blood cells such as platelets or white blood cells. 

  • Raises blood pressure. Repeated alcohol use can change the muscles in our blood vessels and shrink them. Having smaller or narrower blood vessels means the heart has to work harder to push blood around our body. 

Alcohol changes a lot about our bodies, including our blood. But does alcohol directly cause blood clots?

Prevention and Management of Alcohol-Related Blood Clot Risks

Alcohol and Blood Clots

As we learned above, acute consumption of alcohol can thin our blood to the equivalent of taking a daily aspirin. With alcohol in our bloodstream, our platelets become less sticky, making the blood less likely to clot. While this seems like a good way to prevent clotting, it also puts us at risk of bleeding out if we get injured. If we are light to moderate drinkers, however, our blood goes back to normal after we stop drinking. 

Long-term chronic alcohol use, on the other hand, can permanently thin our blood to dangerous levels. Having thin blood increases our chances of hemorrhagic stroke. Hemorrhagic strokes are when blood leaks from a blood vessel or the blood vessel explodes. They can cause irreversible brain damage. A scientific review found that heavy drinkers are at greater risk for developing a hemorrhagic stroke

Due to the array of other possible health issues, using alcohol as a blood thinner is not recommended. Instead, consult a medical professional if you are worried about blood clotting risk factors. 

Can You Drink Alcohol With a Blood Clot?

Drinking alcohol when we have a blood clot is risky and generally not recommended, especially if we take blood thinners — medications designed to thin our blood to prevent clots.

If we drink alcohol while on blood thinners, like Warfarin, we put ourselves at risk for excess bleeding in an accident, dangerous interactions with our medications, and/or excessive blood thinning.

If we drink in moderation (one drink or fewer per day), alcohol will not likely harm us, but it’s always a good idea to consult a medical provider first. 

Prevention and Management of Alcohol-Related Blood Clot Risks

Preventing and managing alcohol-related blood clot risks involves a combination of lifestyle changes, medical interventions, and close monitoring. Here are some strategies:

  • Drink in moderation. The most effective way to reduce the risk of alcohol-related blood clotting issues is to limit or abstain from alcohol consumption altogether. If we choose to drink, we should do so in moderation. Moderation typically means up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Stay hydrated. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production and can lead to dehydration. Dehydration can thicken the blood and increase the risk of clotting. To counteract this effect, be sure to drink plenty of water when consuming alcohol and throughout the day.

  • Regular exercise. Engage in regular physical activity to promote cardiovascular health and circulation. Exercise can help prevent blood clots by improving blood flow and reducing the risk of conditions such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, which are associated with clot formation.

  • Monitor symptoms. Be vigilant for signs of blood clotting issues, such as swelling, redness, warmth, or pain in the affected area (e.g., leg for deep vein thrombosis, chest pain for pulmonary embolism). Seek medical attention promptly if you experience any concerning symptoms.

  • Plan for travel. Sitting for more than an hour at a time increases our risk of getting a blood clot. When traveling, make sure to change positions often to prevent a blockage of blood flow. 

By adopting these preventive measures and closely managing existing conditions, we can reduce our risk of alcohol-related blood clotting and promote overall cardiovascular health. However, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare provider for personalized advice and guidance.

Summary FAQs

1. Does alcohol prevent blood clots?

Alcohol does thin the blood and may reduce our risk of developing blood clots, however, it is not recommended to drink alcohol to thin our blood. 

2. Does alcohol thin or thicken blood?

Alcohol thins our blood, which can make us more vulnerable to heavy bleeding from an injury. 

3. What are blood clot symptoms?

Some symptoms of blood clots include tenderness, swelling, or having a warm feeling in our arms or legs. A blood clot in the brain (a stroke) might lead to such symptoms as trouble speaking, vision changes, strong headaches, and weakness in the face, arm, or leg on one side. Blood clots to the heart (heart attack) can make us feel lightheaded or experience pain in the chest, difficulty breathing, sweating, or nausea.

4. Is it okay to drink alcohol when taking blood thinners?

It is not advised to drink when taking blood thinners. Always check with a medical professional before drinking alcohol when on blood thinners. 

5. Are strokes more common in alcoholics?

Yes, drinking regularly increases your risk of having a stroke. 

Safeguard Your Blood With Reframe! 

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

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The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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