What should I do if I have a blood clot?

What should you do if you experience a blood clot?

When doctors talk about blood clots, they can be referring to either deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE). Estimates state that DVT affects up to 900,000 people each year in the United States1, while being responsible for up to 100,000 deaths2. Given the high incidence rate, it is likely that you or someone you know will suffer from a blood clot. It’s important to know how to recognize the symptoms of a blood clot, and what to do in the event that you suspect you may be suffering from a blood clot or DVT.

Initial Diagnosis

If you are suffering from DVT, symptoms might include pain in the affected area, usually your legs. This often can feel like a pulled muscle. This will usually be accompanied by discoloration in the tender area, swelling, and a feeling of warmth to the touch3. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should contact your doctor right away so that he or she can diagnosis it as a blood clot. Do not self-medicate, as if you are incorrectly diagnosing your problem, any medications such as a blood thinner can have other, adverse effects on your body.

In a pulmonary embolism, the clot travels through the heart to the lungs. Among the symptoms are a shortness of breath, chest pain, and coughing, often with bloody mucus. PE is often fatal.

Treatment of blood clots

If you have seen your doctor and confirmed that you have DVT, there are various treatment options that your doctor may recommend, depending on the location of the clot and your individual health4. You may be prescribed an anticoagulant, which is medicine that can prevent clots from forming; or thrombolytics, which is medicine that dissolves blood clots. In certain cases, you may need to have surgery, which may include thrombectomy and/or placement of a stent. Because of the various treatment options, it is important to see your doctor or a specialist to determine the right course of treatment.

How to prevent future clots

While the majority of patients do not have a repeat blood clot, the risk of having another clot increases after you have had one. The amount of increased risk will vary due to a number of different factors, such as where the clot was located and any family history of blood clots5. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help prevent future clots.

It is important to maintain an active lifestyle, with moderate exercise such as walking or swimming. It is especially important to move around as soon as possible if you have been confined to a bed, such as after any surgery or illness. If you are going to be sitting for a long period of time, such as at work or in the car, be sure to get up and move around every two to three hours. If you are at risk for DVT, talk to your doctor about medical compression stockings or stents. Stockings can help improve blood flow6, while stents are used to open narrow veins to restore blood flow through the veins.


1 – Beckman, Michele, et al. Venous Thromboembolism. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 2010 April vol 38, issue 4: S495-S501.

2 – Raskob, Gary, et all. Surveillance for Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 2010 April, vol 38, issue 4: S502-S509.

3 – Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) & Pulmonary Embolism (PE). National Blood Clot Alliance. Available at: http://www.stoptheclot.org/learn_more/blood_clot_symptoms__dvt.htm . Accessed on September 10, 2015.

4 – Blood Clots. American Society of Hematology. Available at: http://www.hematology.org/Patients/Clots/ . Accessed on September 10, 2015.

5 – Blood Clot FAQs – How are blood clots treated? National Blood Clot Alliance. Available at: http://www.stoptheclot.org/faq_treatment.htm . Accessed on September 10, 2015

6 – Dr Susan R Kahn, MD correspondence email, Stan Shapiro, PhD, Philip S Wells, Compression stockings to prevent post-thrombotic syndrome: a randomized placebo-controlled trial Volume 383, No. 9920, p880–888, 8 March 2014

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