Dos and don'ts after a blood clot

What is a blood clot?
A blood clot that forms in the deep veins, usually in a person’s leg or arm, is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Essentially, it’s a lump of blood that has changed from a liquid to a gel-like or semisolid state. Blood clotting is necessary in certain situations, for example, to stop you from losing too much blood after an injury. If a clot forms inside a vein though, it won’t always dissolve on its own and can become dangerous or even life-threatening.

Sometimes these clots break off and travel to the lungs. This is a more serious medical condition called a pulmonary embolism (PE) that requires immediate medical attention.

Signs and symptoms of a blood clot:

  • swelling, usually in one leg or arm 
  • leg pain or tenderness that feels like a cramp
  • reddish or bluish skin discolouration
  • leg (or arm) warm to touch.

The signs and symptoms of a PE include:

  • sudden shortness of breath
  • chest or back pain – sharp, stabbing; may get worse with deep breath
  • rapid heart rate.

Read more: Warning signs of a blood clot

What is the treatment for blood clots?
The primary treatment is a medication that prevents abnormal clotting, known as an anticoagulant or blood thinner. Blood thinners increase the time it takes for blood to clot, stop new blood clots from forming and keep existing clots from growing larger.

Blood thinners don’t dissolve a clot but, by preventing clots from getting bigger, they allow your body’s own clot busting system time to dissolve them.

Most people are fully healed from a DVT within a few weeks or months but there are some lifestyle factors you need to keep in mind to prevent another blood clot.

The dos and don’ts after a blood clot

Do: watch for signs of another blood clot
If you’ve had a DVT in one of your legs or arms, it’s sometimes normal for that limb to stay slightly swollen after treatment, but keep an eye out for new or worsening pain and discolouration. Pressure and cramping can also signal a new DVT.

Do: know your odds
If you’ve had a blood clot before, your chance of another one is higher. Your risk is also greater if you:

  • have cancer
  • are on birth control or hormone therapy with oestrogen
  • have a chronic illness such as heart and lung conditions, or diabetes 
  • have a blood clotting disorder
  • are over 40
  • are overweight or obese
  • smoke
  • are confined to bed
  • sit for long periods, especially with legs crossed.

Read more: Blood clots: Five reasons they may happen

Don’t: injure yourself
If your doctor prescribed blood thinners, they can make you more likely to bleed from small injuries. Be extra careful when chopping vegetables, and even when trimming your nails. You should wear safety equipment and appropriate gloves when working with sharp tools and check with the doctor for any activities you should avoid.

Don’t: eat the wrong foods
If you’re on certain medications like warfarin, you’ll need to watch what you eat. Vitamin K can interact with the drug, so you have to be careful about the amounts of kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, chard and collard greens you eat. Green tea, cranberry juice and alcohol can also affect blood thinners so make sure you check with your doctor about what you should avoid.

Do: get moving
Exercises like walking and swimming can get your blood flowing and help you heal after a clot. They also might make you feel better in yourself.

If you had a PE, activities that get your heart pumping, like running or dancing, can make your lungs stronger. But talk to your doctor first about how much is right for you.

Read more: Health benefits of swimming

Do: tell the doctor about other medications you’re on
Aspirin can interact with warfarin and other blood thinners and raise your chances of major bleeding. Some antibiotics can also keep medicines from working as they’re supposed to. You should also be careful with over-the-counter herbal supplements including, ginseng, flaxseed and fish oil.

Do: share information
Let all medical professionals who treat you know that you’ve had a blood clot of any kind.

If you’re on blood thinners, tell your dentist when you make an appointment, they may have special instructions that you have to follow before your visit.

Do: ask about compression stockings
These special tight-fitting socks keep a certain amount of pressure on your leg, and that can help with blood flow after a DVT. Your doctor might also recommend them after a PE to boost your circulation.

Don’t: sit for too long
Set an alarm to remind yourself to get up and get moving every two hours. If the DVT was in your leg, try to avoid crossing your legs when you sit. Be mindful of this when travelling.

Do: travel smart
Take breaks often when driving to stretch your legs. Deep knee bends are especially good at getting the blood flowing. When on a long flight, try to move around the cabin once an hour. Rotate and flex your ankles to keep the blood flowing and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Do: watch your weight
Being overweight or obese can strain your veins and make them weak. If you have diabetes, ensure it’s well-controlled to avoid any damage to blood vessels.

Don’t: be afraid to ask for help
It’s normal to be worried about having another DVT, but talking about it may help, whether it’s with a friend or family member or a professional. Look for an online or in-person support group, and let your doctor know what you’re feeling. If necessary, you can get a referral for therapy or medication for your anxiety.

Have you had a blood clot? Are you on blood thinners? Why not share any other symptoms people should look out for in the comments section below?

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Written by Ellie Baxter