This week I wanted to cover something a little more serious and very important for athletes to know: Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolisms, commonly known as blood clots. Fellow Betty teammate Jess Lehman has battled DVT and PE for four years and has become an advocate for the Stop the Clot initiative run by the National Blood Clot Alliance. Jess has shared some of her story below and we both hope this information will help bring awareness to all athletes.
Tell me a little about how you became involved with the Stop the Clot initiative.
In January of 2013 I suffered from bilateral PEs and DVTs after an awesome trip to Africa summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro. The long plane flight, slow heart rate, altitude sickness, severe dehydration and BCP was my perfect storm of destruction. Over the next 8 months body was amazing- my CT scan showed no more clots in the lungs, and I went on to complete my first Ironman! I was diagnosed with PEs for a second time last year. Now I am on blood thinners for LIFE. Definitely horrible news for an athlete and cyclist. When I first was diagnosed I was not allowed to ride my bike on blood thinner because of the risks. I reluctantly agreed because I knew it was temporary. So I didn’t ride my bike for 4 months. However now that I had a second case of PEs, I have to be on blood thinners for life now. I can’t give up cycling. My doctors and family hate that I still ride, but I can’t give up my greatest passion. But I did give up bike racing because there are too many crashes. When I ride now I carry a trauma kit that has QuikClot in it and a tourniquet just in case. I try to mitigate the risk.
As athletes, we tend to think of ourselves as really healthy. Why are we at risk?
We are at risk because healthcare providers often do not consider blood clots something that affects athletes. Blood clots are uncommon in young, healthy individuals – and most athletes are young and healthy. So, for that reason, DVT, PE, and arterial clots in athletes are not the norm. Symptoms be misinterpreted as something less serious. Especially in athletes, healthcare providers often interpret the leg symptoms from DVTs as “muscle tear,” a “Charlie horse,” a “twisted ankle,” or shin splints. Chest symptoms from PE are often attributed to a pulled muscle, costochondritis (inflammation of the joint between ribs and breast bone), bronchitis, asthma, or a “touch of pneumonia.”
Veins carry blood back to the heart from the rest of your body. Clots in the deep veins of the legs, arms, pelvis, abdomen, or around the brain are called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If a piece of the clot breaks off from a leg or arm and travels to the lung, it can cause a clot in the lung. A clot in the lung is called a Pulmonary Embolism or PE. A PE can be a life threatening medical emergency. You need to seek immediate medical attention if you have symptoms of a PE!
What are the warning signs?
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins of your body, usually in your legs, but sometimes in your arm. The signs and symptoms of a DVT include:
- Swelling, usually in one leg (or arm)
- Leg pain or tenderness often described as a cramp or Charley horse
- Reddish or bluish skin discoloration
- Leg (or arm) warm to touch
These symptoms of a blood clot may feel similar to a pulled muscle or a “Charlie horse,” but may differ in that the leg (or arm) may be swollen, slightly discolored, and warm.
Clots can break off from a DVT and travel to the lung, causing a pulmonary embolism (PE), which can be fatal. The signs and symptoms of a PE include:
- Sudden shortness of breath
- Chest pain-sharp, stabbing; may get worse with deep breath
- Rapid heart rate
- Unexplained cough, sometimes with bloody mucus
If you have symptoms of PE, call 911 right away!
What should we do if we’re concerned we might have a blood clot?
See a doctor! Tell them you are concerned about blood clots and ask for an ultrasound. It’s better to have a test and find nothing than to not do the test and put your life in danger.
How can we prevent, or at least minimize, our risk?
Know your risk for blood clots and be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of blood clots. Tell your doctor if you have risk factors for blood clots, and talk with your doctor about blood clots before any surgery. See your doctor as soon as possible if you do have any symptoms of a blood clot- they can be safely treated.
Other steps you can take to reduce prevent blood clots:
- It’s important to know your family history. Tell your doctor and other family members if you learn that there is a history of blood clots among your relatives.
- If you have to be confined to a bed in a hospital or at home following surgery or due to illness or paralysis, ask your doctor what options exist to prevent blood clots.
- Get up and move if you’ve been sitting for a long time or traveling for a long timeby plane, train, or car. Stand up, walk around, and stretch your legs every two to three hours.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Don’t smoke or take steps to quit smoking.
Where can we learn more and get involved?
You can find Jess on Instagram @suckitupbuttercup
*Some information for this article was copied from stoptheclot.org. My many thanks to the National Blood Clot Alliance for the excellent information. ~AT