People with low levels of iron in their blood have a greater chance of dangerous blood clots, researchers said Wednesday.

The study from scientists at Imperial College London suggested that treating iron deficiency could be the key to preventing lethal blood clots.

The study finds that low levels of iron the blood were a strong risk factor for blood clots, and patients who took iron supplements did not have higher risk.

Currently there is no identified reason for deep vein thrombosis, blood clots that form in the veins. The CDC estimates that around 350,000 to 600,000 are affected annually. DVT is the leading cause of maternal death in the United States.

Researchers studied patients with hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT), an inherited disease of the blood vessels which causes excessive bleeding from the nose and gut. HHT creates a greater chance of blood clots.

"Most of our patients who had blood clots did not have any of the known risk factors," said the study’s lead author Claire Shovlin, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London. "We thought that studying people with HHT might tell us something important about the wider population."

Previous studies could not identify the reason for HHT patients’ higher risk for blood clots. However, researchers from the current study identified a strong link between iron levels and blood clots.

"Our study shows that in people with HHT, low levels of iron in the blood is a potentially treatable risk factor for blood clots," Dr Shovlin said. "There are small studies in the general population which would support these findings, but more studies are needed to confirm this. If the finding does apply to the general population, it would have important implications in almost every area of medicine."

Researchers analyzed blood from 609 HHT patients at Hammersmith Hospital from 1999 to 2011 to find differences between patients who had blood clots and those who did not. Many of the patients had low levels of iron due to frequent bleeding.

Researchers say that around 1 billion people are affected by iron deficiency anemia on a global scale, and other signs of iron deficiency can be especially high if other medical conditions are present.

Shovlin proposed that blood clotting when blood is low in iron could be an evolutionary adaptation to prevent further blood loss.