Our Blood Clot Story – Nobody is Immune
Plus, Blood Clot Prevention Tips While Traveling
March is Blood Clot Awareness month, which makes for an ideal time to spread awareness on this medical condition. In 2013, my husband experienced a life-threatening Pulmonary Embolism. He doesn’t have a clotting disorder, nor did he exhibit any of the other factors to make him a high-risk candidate; nevertheless, he developed two blood clots. I’m sharing his story to help raise awareness to the risks of blood clots. Nobody is immune from getting one and everyone should know the symptoms and practice blood clot prevention when traveling.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and this is not a medical blog. If you have concerns about blood clots, please contact your primary care physician.
When I read about medical issues, I personally always want to know how it could have been prevented. Being a control freak, I suppose this is my desire to attempt to control the situation. In the case of my husband’s blood clot and given the information available to us, I am not sure what we could have done differently. But, to my fellow control freaks – his story should give you some additional insight if you ever find yourself in this situation.
The Beginning of a Clot
By time October 2013, we honestly didn’t think our year could get any worse. In fact, we were hoping a family vacation would give us a change of scenery and happier things to focus on. As we were preparing for our family vacation, a road trip to Tucson, Arizona, my husband had a doctor’s appointment to check on a pain he was having on top of his left foot.
While the doctor didn’t seem concerned about my husband’s foot pain, he did seem very concerned about something he felt behind my husband’s left knee. He was so concerned, that he sent us immediately to the hospital for a doppler ultrasound. This type of test is main way to determine if someone has a blood clot. No indicators of this test showed a blood clot. They saw nothing visible and blood flow was normal. Getting this all clear, we headed off to our 13-hour road trip to Tucson, Arizona.
13-Hour Road Trip
Our road trip was broken into two days. We took breaks along the way, but we didn’t practice any blood clot prevention. My husband used cruise control and placed his leg in a 90-degree angle for long-periods of time. None of us wore compressions stockings. And, we barely drank any water! Basically, we took this road trip feeling that we had zero risks of getting a blood clot.
By time we reached our destination, my husband’s left leg was noticeable swollen – but unfortunately, we didn’t notice it. Again, we weren’t looking out for any blood clot symptoms. We didn’t have the knowledge we needed. Can you tell which leg had the blood clot from this picture?
DVT Diagnosis #1
The week after we returned home, my husband coincidentally had an appointment with a vein surgeon. My husband had varicose veins and every doctor, even the vein surgeon, said the varicose veins posed no risk and the surgery was simply for cosmetic purposes. This is because varicose veins are in our superficial veins and not our deep veins. Based on years of being told these veins were not an issue, we had no reason to think that they would cause a blood clot.
During the ultrasound pre-op, they found a big, dangly DVT (deep vein thrombosis) in this left thigh. The surgery was postponed, and they immediately gave him blood thinners and sent him home. We had a list of symptoms to watch for and instructions to head to the emergency room if any of them were to occur.
The next day, he had shortness of breath and off we went to the emergency room. I remember dropping him off at the door and forcing him to tell the front desk that he had been diagnosed with a DVT and was experiencing shortness of breath. By time I had parked the car and walked inside the hospital, he was already in a bed being prepped for a CT Scan. I was thankful that the hospital doesn’t mess around.
The CT Scan showed exactly what I feared, the DVT had moved to his lungs. This is called a Pulmonary Embolism (PE). While I didn’t know much about PEs, I knew they can be a life-ending event. It was a scary time for our family. We spent 3 nights in the hospital and he was on blood thinners for months following the event. The doctors connected this DVT to our road trip and considered it a fluke.
DVT Diagnosis #2
After months of recovery, he was ready for his vein surgery. He passed the post-op ultrasound this time and had the surgery. However, in his follow-up appointment, they found yet another DVT. He was back on blood thinners for a full year this time and thankfully, this clot slowly dissolved without moving. The doctors connected this DVT to the surgery.
It’s a Fluke (Fluke is Apparently a Medical Term)
After the 2nd DVT, we went to a hematologist and the bloodwork showed no known clotting disorder. Based on this information, all three doctors, primary care physician, vein surgeon, and the hematologist agreed that the two DVTs were likely just flukes. They all stated that if anything was to blame it was the road trip for DVT #1 and the surgery for DVT #2.
However, I am not 100% sold on the fluke theory. Many people go on road trips without getting a DVT. Many people have surgery and don’t get a DVT – so why did my husband?
Where we are Today
Here we are in 2018, five years later, and we still don’t have complete answers. Thankfully he has not developed another DVT and while he cannot recover the damaged portion of his lung, his breathing feels normal, even at the high-altitudes in Colorado. We learned about some risks factors. We wrangled some details from family members. And we practice all the preventative measures discussed below.
Know Your Risks
Medications and Other Factors
Talk to your doctor to determine if any medications you are taking places you at a higher risk of blood clots. Determine if any OTC medications, diet, or your recreational activities (drinking, smoking) increases your risk.
Ask About Your Family History
Please talk to your family about blood clots. Health related topics are not always easy to broach with family members of a certain generation. You may face resistance, excuses, or pure denial. However, you need to understand if any of your family members have experienced a blood clot. To get accurate answers, you will have to ask very specific questions:
- Have you ever had a blood clot because of a surgery or injury?
- Have you ever had a blood clot because of medicine?
- Have you ever had a blood clot because of another illness or disease?
- Have you ever had a blood clot because of anything else?
Yes, blood clots CAN be a fluke in a single person who has a surgery. But since we know so little about clotting disorders in general, I still think there might be some cause of why some people get a blood clot post-surgery, while others do not.
Mitigate Your Risks
Even if you are not at an increased risk from medication, family history, etc., you should still practice blood clot prevention during travel. Here are some tips, however, use the links below for detailed information:
- Drink lots of water during a road trip or flight. Water helps the blood flow better and you are forced to walk to the restroom more often.
- Move your arms and legs often to increase circulation.
- Wear compression stockings (Amazon has some really cute ones).
- Don’t ignore any swelling, redness, pain, pressure, etc.
I will leave you with this reiteration. Nobody is immune to getting a blood clot. Know your risks, know the symptoms and don’t ignore them, and always practice blood clot prevention when traveling.
For more information on blood clots, please visit: www.stoptheclot.org.
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