Updated October 2019

Did you know that medically ill patients are at risk for developing a blood clot when they’re in the hospital?

According to the Surgeon General, hospitalization is one of the most common and preventable causes of blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary embolism or PE). Patients who are medically ill, meaning in the hospital for conditions such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure, stroke, or rheumatic diseases, face the highest risk.

Here are five steps that you can take to protect yourself from blood clots if you’re admitted to the hospital:

1. GET UP AND MOVE

Immobility is a major risk factor for developing a blood clot. You should get out of bed and move as much as you can. “Patients can help mitigate their risk by being as active as possible, getting up and moving around, participating in physical therapy, and really engaging with their healthcare providers to be as mobile as possible,” explains Dr. Geoffrey Barnes, a cardiologist and vascular medicine specialist at the University of Michigan Health System. 

2. TAKE YOUR MEDICATIONS

Doctors prescribe anticoagulant medications for some patients that are in the hospital. Some of these drugs, such as enoxaparin (Lovenox), involve injections. Although injections can be unpleasant, “we need patients to be persistent in taking their medications as prescribed  for them to work,” explained John Fanikos, RPh, MBA, who serves as the Executive Director of Pharmacy Services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Hopefully, patients can build their medications into their daily activities, such as their morning meal, morning shower, an afternoon TV show, or evening newscast.”

3. KNOW THE SYMPTOMS OF BLOOD CLOTS

By knowing the signs and symptoms of a blood clot, patients can be more in tune with their own health. Patients should be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE).

DVT signs/symptoms include:

  • Discomfort, heaviness, pain, aching, throbbing, itching, or warmth in the legs
  • Skin changes in the leg, such as discoloration, thickening, or ulceration
  • Swelling of the legs, ankles, or feet

PE signs/symptoms include:

  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate

4. BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE

Speak up for yourself when you’re in the hospital. “Patients can do a lot to empower themselves and protect themselves from developing a blood clot,” stressed Dr. Christian Ruff, a cardiovascular specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “In the hospital, they can make sure that they’re receiving appropriate blood clot prophylaxis (preventive measures for clots). Patients are their own best advocates.”

5. STAY INFORMED

You shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions when you’re in the hospital — or after you leave. Asking the right questions can help you find the right care after you are discharged.

“It’s important for patients to know that when they leave the hospital, they are in the best position to help ensure that they’re doing all of the things they need to do to help lower the risk of a complication after discharge,” explained Dr. Ruff. “I would recommend that all patients talk to the team caring for them in the hospital but should also reach out to their outpatient or primary care team and ask if there are things they could be doing or medications they could be prescribed that would help protect them during post-discharge follow-up.”