A new study published this week in the medical journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics finds a surprising indicator of blood clot risk: your height. Here’s what you should know.
100,000 deaths per year in the United States. Half a million deaths per year in Europe. Blood clots (venous thromboembolisms or VTEs) are a big deal, and can become deadly in a split second. That’s because a blood clot is essentially a clump of blood cells that get “stuck” in your vein — and if they’re allowed to rest there and harden, when they break free they can shoot down your circulatory system and get lodged somewhere where real damage occurs.
Researchers have been studying blood clots for years trying to find genetic associations, risk factors, mitigative strategies, and more in an effort to reduce the mortality rate surrounding VTEs. The latest big study, published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics, finds a surprising correlation between blood clot risk and height. The collected data seems to strongly indicate that taller individuals are at a higher risk of developing VTEs than their shorter counterparts. In fact, it seems as though the shorter you are, the lower your risk. Men who were under 5’3″ had a two-thirds lower chance of developing blood clots, and women under 5’1″ experienced a whopping 69% drop in danger. While smoking and a sedentary lifestyle were also strong predictors of VTE likelihood, it’s becoming quite clear that body shape and type is a huge factor as well.
Why would this be? Researchers aren’t positive, but the going hypothesis appears to be relatively simple: a longer (ie: taller) vascular system simply has more “real estate”, and therefore more chances for clotting to occur. It takes a longer time for blood to drain from longer extremities; hence, a higher chance of a clot forming.
Let’s face it: we can’t control our height or our genetics. However, we can intelligently use the knowledge we have about what our genetics predispose us to, and leverage our lifestyle choices based in a way that is in the smartest alignment with what we can expect out of our bodies.
There’s no reason you should be smoking or leading a sedentary lifestyle anyway, but if you’re pre-disposed to blood clotting due to your height and/or weight, it becomes especially critical to take dietary and physical exercise-related measures to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to “beat the odds” that your genetics might naturally steer you towards.
Remember, a study is a generalization, not a guarantee for your personal health picture. If you’re curious about your risk factors for VTEs or anything else, it’s always a good idea to go see your neighborhood physician for a discussion that can save you a lot of worrying down the line.