For Patients

I've never had a blood clot.

What do I need to know? 

Blood clots are a common medical condition.   They can happen to anyone, at any age.  Although a blood clot can occur with little or no warning, your risk of developing a clot can be reduced with appropriate preventative measures. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent many complications. What you need to know:

1. Know the symptoms of a blood clot

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): 

A clot that typically is in one leg (can also occur in unusual sites, such as veins in the arm, abdomen or around the brain). Symptoms range from mild to severe; may involve the foot, ankle, calf, whole leg or arm. The classic symptoms are:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Discoloration (bluish or reddish)
  • Warmth

Pulmonary Embolism (PE):

A blood clot in the lungs.  The classic symptoms are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain (may be worse with deep breath)
  • Unexplained cough (may cough up blood)
  • Unexplained rapid heart rate 
If you suspect a blood clot, get medical attention right away.  Don't delay.

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2. Know your risk for clots is increased if you...

  • have major surgery or trauma
  • are hospitalized
  • are overweight
  • are immobile
  • are on birth control pill, patch or ring
  • are on hormone replacement therapy
  • are pregnant
  • smoke
  • have a family history of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolisms
  • have an inherited or acquired blood clotting disorder
  • have cancer
  • have an inflammatory disorder, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease

3. Family history

Know your family medical history.  Learn if anyone in your family has experienced deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism.  A family history increases risk. Make your physicians aware of this family history. 

 4. Diagnosis

Blood clots are often misdiagnosed or diagnosed after a delay.  Be aware that other medical conditions can also mimic the symptoms of a blood clot, making it difficult to diagnosis and treat in a timely manner.  Symptoms can sometimes be subtle or there may be none at all. 

 doctors5.  Don't delay going to the doctor

If you have symptoms of a blood clot, go get checked out by a physician.  Don't delay going to the doctor. Early treatment can prevent many complications, including death.

 6. Ask questions

It is OK to ask your doctor, "Could this be a blood clot?" Be proactive.  Make sure your doctor is screening you for blood clots.

 7.  Move

Immobility increases the risk of developing clots. Move your legs frequently when on long trips--such as when traveling by plane, bus, or car.  If you've been sitting for a long period of time, stop and take a break to stretch your legs. Be active. Activity improves circulation.

 8. If you are hospitalized or planning a surgical procedure...

Hospitalization greatly increases blood clot risk.  If you are hospitalized or planning for surgery, ask your doctor:

  • Am I at risk for blood clots?
  • Should I be on a medication to prevent blood clots? (You may hear such blood clot prevention measures called 'DVT prophylaxis' by your doctor.)
    • If yes, then:  How long should I be on this medication?  Only while I'm hospitalized or also after I go home?

Blood clots are serious and can be life-threatening.  The good news is that clots can be prevented.  Early diagnosis can prevent complications. Be aware of the symptoms, your risk factors, and be proactive.