Blood clots are a serious medical condition. It is important to know the signs and get treated right away. This guide describes ways to prevent and treat blood clots; symptoms; and medication side effects as well as when to go to the emergency room.
Blood clots (also called deep vein thrombosis most often occur in people who can’t move around well or who have had recent surgery or an injury.
Causes of Blood Clots
Blood clots can form if you don’t move around a lot. You may also get a blood clot if you:
- Have had recent surgery.
- Are 65 or older.
- Take hormones, especially for birth control. (Ask your doctor about this).
- Have had cancer or are being treated for it.
- Have broken a bone (hip, pelvis, or leg).
- Have a bad bump or bruise.
- Are obese.
- Are confined to bed or a chair much of the time.
- Have had a stroke or are paralyzed.
- Have a special port the doctor put in your body to give you medicine.
- Have varicose or bad veins.
- Have heart trouble.
- Have had a blood clot before.
- Have a family member who has had a blood clot.
- Have taken a long trip (more than an hour) in a car, airplane, bus, or train.
Symptoms of a Blood Clot
You may have a blood clot if you see or feel:
- New swelling in your arm or leg.
- Skin redness.
- Soreness or pain in your arm or leg.
- A warm spot on your leg.
Blood clots can be dangerous. Blood clots that form in the veins in your legs, arms, and groin can break loose and move to other parts of your body, including your lungs. A blood clot in your lungs is called a pulmonary embolism. If this happens, your life can be in danger. Go to the emergency room or call 911.
A blood clot may have gone to your lungs if you suddenly have:
- A hard time breathing.
- Chest pain.
- A fast heartbeat.
- Fainting spells.
- A mild fever.
- A cough, with or without blood.
Preventing Blood Clots
You can help prevent blood clots if you:
- Wear loose-fitting clothes, socks, or stockings.
- Raise your legs 6 inches above your heart from time to time.
- Wear special stockings (called compression stockings) if your doctor prescribes them. If you are over the age of 65 these are recommended for long flights and trips where you are stationary for long periods.
- Do exercises your doctor gives you.
- Change your position often, especially during a long trip.
- Do not stand or sit for more than 1 hour at a time.
- Eat less salt.
- Try not to bump or hurt your legs and try not to cross them.
- Do not use pillows under your knees.
- Raise the bottom of your bed 4 to 6 inches with blocks or books.
- Take all medicines the doctor prescribes you.
Treatment for Blood Clots
If you have been told you have a blood clot, your doctor may give you medicine to treat it. This type of medicine is called a blood thinner (also called an anticoagulant). In most cases, your doctor will tell you to follow this treatment plan:
- For the first week you will receive medicine called heparin that works quickly.
- This medicine is injected under the skin. You will learn how to give yourself these shots, or a family member or friend may do it for you.
- You will also start taking Coumadin® (generic name: warfarin) pills by mouth. After about a week of taking both the shots and the pills, you will stop taking the shots. You will continue to take the Coumadin®/warfarin pills for about 3 to 6 months or longer.
Side Effects of Blood Thinners
Blood thinners can cause side effects. Bleeding is the most common problem. Your doctor will watch you closely. If you notice something wrong that you think may be caused by your medication, call your doctor.