Blood clots are scary. Sometimes you don’t even know there are there, until it’s too late. That was the case for me. I was going along, living life, feeling fine, and then suddenly I couldn’t move my arm or talk. It happened that quickly. One second I was fine, the next, I was not.
When I got to the emergency room back in August 2001, doctors thought I had Bells Palsy. Deep down, I knew they were wrong. Deep down, I knew I was having a stroke, but didn’t want to believe it. I was relieved for a moment by thinking I could go home and this would all go away. I’m glad I didn’t. Finally, a neurologist examined me and told me what I feared - I was having a stroke.
Once I was rolled back into radiology, the doctors found the blood clot behind my left ear. It’s amazing it didn’t make it to my brain, but it was still killing my brain cells every second it was there. Since I got to the hospital within three hours of my initial symptoms, I was a candidate for tPa, a clot-busting treatment. It worked like a charm, but a little too late. My symptoms didn’t go away and it took several months of intensive physical, occupational and speech therapy before I could talk clearly and move my arm again.
Turns out, I also have a blood disorder. The fact I was taking birth control pills at the time of my stroke didn’t help either. Taking birth control pills are clearly a risk factor for stroke, but does anybody ever think it’s going to happen to them? I didn’t. The doctor prescribes the pills, and you assume they are safe to take. Factors that increase the risk of developing blood clots include major surgery, immobility (such as being in the hospital or long travel), recent injury, increased estrogen from birth control pills, pregnancy and certain medications, certain chronic medical illnesses such as heart disease and cancer, previous blood clots, obesity and smoking.
If you are one of the many people out there that develops a blood clot, you need to get help immediately, so know the symptoms. Half of the people with blood clots have no symptoms at all. The most common symptoms (usually in the leg), include swelling, pain, tenderness and redness of the skin. Symptoms for pulmonary embolism include difficulty breathing, faster than normal heart rate, chest pain or discomfort, coughing up blood and very low blood pressure.
There are several steps you can take to protect yourself. When sitting for long periods of time, such as traveling for more than four hours, get up and move around every two to three hours. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcoholic drinks or drinks that have caffeine. Move around as soon as possible after being confined to a bed after a surgery or injury, for instance. If you are at risk, wear graduated compression stockings. If you are at an increased risk, talk to your physician about medication (anticoagulants). Also, exercise, maintain a healthy weight and don’t smoke. If you are one of the many people out there that develops a blood clot, get to the hospital immediately. Time is truly of the essence.