Christmas stockings make people smile. From the bright-eyed child on Christmas morning digging through an overflowing sock, to the thoughtful adult who has hidden something special in their family member’s stocking, this symbol of the holiday season is typically associated with joyful surprises and happiness. But sometimes “stockings” during the holiday season, and throughout the year, can hold unwanted surprises, like a blood clot – especially in women who are expecting or have recently had a baby. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one person dies every 6 minutes due to a blood clot, which totals to about 100,000 people each year. Several risk factors place people of any age, gender, or race at higher risk for blood clots than the general population, including being hospitalized due to trauma (car accidents for example) or surgery (especially involving the pelvis, abdomen, hip or knee, such as total knee or hip replacements). About half of all blood clots each year (500,000 or so) are linked to being hospitalized or happen within three months of being in the hospital. Immobility (in bed or a wheelchair) due to serious illness or injury is also a major risk factor for blood clots. Something as simple as sitting with your legs crossed too long can be a risk factor. Risk factors particular to women include pregnancy (up to three months after the baby is born), use of birth control that contains estrogen, or hormone therapy with estrogen.
Important Facts About Blood Clots and Pregnancy
- Blood clots in the lungs are one of the most common causes of pregnancy-related deaths
- Women are five times more likely to have a blood clot during pregnancy and three months after
- Surgical delivery by C-section doubles the risk for blood clots
- Half of blood clots occur during pregnancy and half after delivery
- Highest risk period is the first week after childbirth
Some readers may be thinking that they are not at risk for blood clots because they are not pregnant and because they are generally healthy and exercise regularly. Heard of Serena Williams, who has 24 Grand Slam tennis titles? She is one of the fittest athletes on the planet, yet she has suffered from multiple episodes of blood clots, both before and after giving birth to a healthy baby girl. I didn’t think I was at risk either, until one evening about 25 years ago when I started experiencing searing pain in my right chest after a particularly stressful day at work, and ended up in the emergency room on a Heparin drip (a medication that thins the blood). It had been three years since my last delivery, but I had been on birth control for several years before and after delivering my last child. You better believe I changed my birth control after that experience.
Women also need to be aware of additional risk factors not associated with childbirth. They include:
- Age 55 or older
- Long-term diseases such as heart and lung conditions, or diabetes
- Cancer and its treatment
- Personal or family history of blood clots
Blood clots commonly occur in the arm or leg accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Pain or tenderness not caused by injury
- Skin that is warm to the touch
- Redness or discoloration of the skin
- If you have these signs or symptoms, alert your doctor as soon as possible.
Symptoms of a blood clot in the lung may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain that worsens with a deep breath
- Coughing, or coughing up blood
- Faster than normal or irregular heartbeat
- Seek immediate attention if you experience these signs or symptoms.
The first step in the prevention of blood clots (in your Christmas stocking or at any time) is to recognize the warning signs and risk factors. Most blood clots are preventable with the proper awareness of risks and symptoms, communication with your primary healthcare provider and/or surgeon, and with swift medical attention if a blood clot is occurring. Save room in your stocking for holiday goodies, instead of blood clots! Happy holidays! For more information refer to the CDC links provided below:
“Stop the Clot. Spread the Word.” stoptheclot.org/spreadtheword/ and cdc.gov/ncbddd/dvt.