You Can Get a Blood Clot: Know the facts, Save a Life
Posted Mar 09 2014 9:30am
March is Blood Clot Awareness Month. And before you decide you don’t need to read this post because it could never happen to you since you are (insert that amazing, wonderful thing you are here); I am here to tell you it can happen to you. The National Blood Clot Alliance (a.k.a. Stop the Clot) is getting this urgent message out to the public and policymakers to raise awareness, “So You Think You Can’t Get A Blood Clot? Think Again.” It does not matter how fit, unfit, skinny, young, old, active, healthy, unhealthy you are. You can get a blood clot.
Blood clots affect an estimated 900,00 Americans each and every year and kill up to 600,000 Americans every year. Blood clots kill more people than AIDS, Breast Cancer and motor vehicle accidents combined every year, except there is far less public awareness about them ( Source ). In fact, the statistics are astounding:
Blood clots are a leading cause of preventable hospital deaths in the United States ( Source ).
Blood clots are the leading cause of maternal deaths in the United States ( Source ).
1 in 3 people who are diagnosed with PE will die.
In 25 percent of people who experience a PE, the first symptom is sudden death.
One person every minute will be diagnosed with DVT in the U.S. One person every six minutes will die from a PE in the U.S. ( Source )
10 to 30 percent of people affected by DVT/PE will die within one month of diagnosis.
I didn’t think I could get a blood clot. It never crossed my mind, especially since I decided to start running, lose weight and take control of my health in 2010. I spent nearly three years running – countless 5K’s, half marathons, a marathon and over half of the Goofy Challenge in 2012. I dropped out of the race – and not for lack of trying – at mile 22 of the full marathon (the day after I completed the half marathon) due to severe pain in my left lower leg and knee, which I attributed to ongoing knee problems. I was disappointment (mostly because I had to leave the Goofy Medal behind), but I was content I gave it everything I could in the race – because I did.
That was in January and I took an extended break before picking up coaching again in late May of the same year. Many of you already know my story, but for those of you that don’t, here’s the brief version. I went out for that two mile training run with my group on that Saturday morning and it went well, but I could tell I was out of shape due to not running. My leg and knee hurt immediately after the run and I was frustrated that my knee still had not healed, in my opinion. The pain was slightly different too, and I suspected an early case of plantar fasciitis. I went home to rest, ice and elevate and took a nap.
I woke up with a pain in my left side, which I attributed to a pulled muscle, once again, due to being out of shape. I took a hot shower, stretched and went about my day, hobbling on my leg, which was nothing new to me.
By that evening, I was feeling tired and decided to go to bed early, only, I could not lay down flat in bed. When I did, my side hurt even more. I propped myself up with some pillows and slept – restlessly – on the couch. My husband checked on me a few times and did ask if I needed to go to the hospital, but I declined saying it was from my run.
I woke up Sunday morning feeling better at first, but the situation escalated throughout the day and into that evening as well. By Sunday night, I could barely speak in full sentences because the pain in my side was so great. It felt like someone was stabbing me or jabbing a finger between my ribs. The pain in my leg had also become significantly worse. It felt like someone had the fleshy part behind me knee in a vice and kept tightening. I could barely walk and my breathing was becoming more shallow. I cancelled plans to attend a family birthday celebration, which is not like me, and out of concern, my father called my physician who called me. When I explained I would not be so worried about my “sidestich” if I could walk on my leg, he became very silent. I knew then something was wrong. He instructed me to go to the nearest Emergency Room with a trauma center and he would call ahead to let them know I was coming. He believed a I had a Pulmonary Embolism.
I was admitted to the hospital and spent the better part of the next week in the intensive care unit, unable to walk, eat or use the bathroom on my own. What I suffered from was a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) or blood clot in the leg (upper calf in my case) that broke off and traveled through my bloodstream, my heart and lodged in my lung as a Pulmonary Embolism (PE). I was lucky to be alive. I left the hospital a week later on blood thinners, with oxygen and unable to walk unassisted. I had heard of blood clots before – PEs even – and I knew they had to be serious, but I had no idea the extent of the damage done to my body or that one could ever happen to me. I did not know the symptoms or that I could have no symptoms (of a DVT). I did not know I should put the pain in my leg and the pain in my side, or as I now know, my lung together. Knowing may have saved me a lot of pain and damage to my body.
The symptoms of DVT (blood clot commonly in the calf, groin or pelvic area) can include swelling in the affected leg, ankle or foot; pain in your leg, ankle or foot (keep in mind pain in the calf can feel like cramping or a charley horse that won’t go away after massaging, ice, elevation or rest); warmth over the affected area; and changes in skin color such as turning pale, blue red or purple. If you suspect you have a DVT, you should make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible or seek prompt medical attention.
The symptoms of a PE (blood clot that has traveled to the lung) can include unexplained sudden onset of shortness of breath; chest pain or discomfort that worsens when you take a deep breath, cough or lie down; feeling light headed, dizzy or fainting; rapid pulse; sweating; coughing up blood; and a sense of anxiety, nervousness or impending doom. If you suspect you have a PE, seek emergency medical attention immediately or call 9-1-1, as it is life threatening.
While there are several factors that put you at risk for a blood clot including a hospitalization or recent surgery, major accident or trauma, immobility due to a long plane or car ride, pregnancy, taking hormone replacements including contraceptives, heredity and obesity, there are also several things you can do to help prevent a blood clot. Your risk is greatly reduced by staying active and stretching often when sitting or traveling by plane or car for long periods; maintain an ideal body weight; know your genetic risk factors and family history for developing a clot; and if you have a major hospitalization or surgery, discussing blood clot prevention with your doctor.
Blood clots, especially those to the lung, are devastating physically, emotionally and psychologically. My entire life was turned upside down. Nearly two years later, I am still recovering from what happened to me and while I have slowly regained my physical abilities almost to what they were, the emotional and psychological impact of what happened to me is something I am still facing on a daily basis. It was discovered I have an autoimmune clotting disorder that will never allow me to come off blood thinners for the treatment and prevention of blood clots. At 30 years old, that is a very scary prospect, as well as the associated complications that come from the disorder and a lifetime of intense medications.
Yet, I am alive and was given a second chance to live my life and for me, a part of that is educating others about this silent killer. Awareness is key. Knowing matters. It could save your life or the life of someone you know one day. Spread the word.
For more about my story, blood clots and Blood Clot Awareness Month, including materials to share, please visit-