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

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

Healthcare providers work hard to protect patients by using appropriate tools to prevent blood clots, such as giving them appropriate anticoagulant medications and managing their exercise routines. However, patients need to be aware of their risk.

Here are five steps that you can take to protect yourself from blood clots if you are sick in the hospital:

1. GET UP AND MOVE

Immobility is a major risk factor for developing a blood clot.  You should be sure to get out of bed and move as much as you are able to. “Patients can help mitigate their risk by doing things like 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,” explained Dr. Geoffrey Barnes, a cardiologist and vascular medicine specialist at the University of Michigan Health System. “They can be a real partner in their care.”

2. TAKE YOUR MEDICATIONS

Doctors prescribe anticoagulant medications for some patients that are in the hospital. Some of these drugs, such as Lovenox, involve injections. While patients don’t enjoy injections, it’s important that you take the medications that your doctor prescribes.

“We need patients to be persistent in taking their medications as prescribed,” 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. Patients need to take their medications as prescribed in order for them to work.”

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 DVT:

  • 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

Signs and Symptoms of PE:

  • 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 the risk of 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 are receiving appropriate prophylaxis for blood clots. Patients are their own best advocates, so they should be sure to talk to their doctors about receiving the appropriate prophylaxis for the prevention of blood clots.”

5. STAY INFORMED

In order to be an advocate for yourself, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions when you’re in the hospital. This comes into play after patients leave the hospital too. 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 make sure that they are doing all of the things they need to do to help lower their risk of a complication after discharge,” explained Dr. Ruff. “I would recommend to all patients that they talk to the physicians caring for them in the hospital, most importantly, but also their outpatient or primary care doctor, and ask if there are things they could be doing or medications they could be prescribed that would really help protect them during the post-discharge follow up.”