People may be at an increased risk of developing dangerous blood clots if they have low levels of iron in their body, a new study has found.
Blood clots are essential to repair injured blood vessels, for example, following a cut to the skin. However, blood clots sometimes form when they are not needed, leading to serious issues such as pain and swelling. In some cases, a clot can prove fatal. For example, with deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a clot may develop in the veins of the legs, before dislodging and travelling to the blood vessels of the lungs.
According to UK researchers, some risk factors for blood clots are known, such as immobility and major surgery. However in many cases, it is not known why a clot develops.
They decided to investigate this further by monitoring patients with an inherited disease of the blood vessels known as hereditary haemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT). The main symptom of this condition is excessive bleeding from the gut and nose.
"Most of our patients who had blood clots did not have any of the known risk factors. We thought that studying people with HHT might tell us something important about the wider population," explained lead researcher, Dr Claire Shovlin, of Imperial College London.
The researchers studied the blood of over 600 HHT patients in an attempt to discover the difference between those who had blood clots and those who did not.
They found that a significant number of patients had low iron levels as a result of losing iron through bleeding. They also found that low iron levels in the blood were a strong risk factor for blood clots.
However, patients who were taking iron supplements did not have a higher risk of blood clots. This indicates that treating iron deficiency may prevent clots, the team said.
"Our study shows that in people with HHT, low levels of iron in the blood is a potentially treatable risk factor for blood clots. There are small studies in the general population which would support these findings, but more studies are needed to confirm this," commented Dr Shovlin.
However, she emphasised that if these findings are found to apply to the general population, ‘it would have important implications in almost every area of medicine'.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, Thorax.