Many times, we hear about so called “blood clots” that may arise as a complication after surgery. Patients are instructed to wear compression stockings and surgeons may prescribe blood thinner injections for the days following a surgical procedure. But why?
The important questions to know the answers to are...
What in fact are blood clots? How do they develop? What do they feel like? What can be done to prevent them? When to seek emergency care?
To start, what is a blood clot? A blood clot is a mass of blood that forms when platelets, proteins, and cells in the blood stick together.
How do they develop?
When you get hurt, (or there is trauma/incision caused to a specific part of your body such as in a surgical procedure) a blood clot forms to help to stop the bleeding.
After the bleeding stops and healing takes place, your body usually breaks down and removes the blood clot.
However, sometimes the blood clots form where they shouldn't, your body makes too many blood clots, or the blood clots don't break down like they should. This may cause a formed blood clot to travel via your circulatory system to other parts of your body where it does not belong such as, lower legs, lungs, brain, heart, or kidneys. These blood clots can be dangerous and may cause other health problems” (NIH, 2016).
What are the signs and symptoms?
The most common that may develop following a surgical procedure are a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or Pulmonary Embolism (PE) in the lungs.
Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT):
***Notify your doctor immediately or go to nearest ER if you have any of the following symptoms:
· Soreness or pain in your arms or legs
· New swelling and/or redness in your arm or leg
· Tenderness or pain along a vein path
· Legs/Arms feels warmer/hot than the other side
Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism (PE):
Pulmonary Embolism (PE) is when a blood clot breaks free and travels to the lungs. It can block air flow and can be life-threatening.
***Call 911 or an ambulance immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:
· Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
· Sharp or stabbing pain in your side, back, or chest that may worsen with deep breaths
· Fast heartbeat that does not calm
· Fast breathing
· Sudden, unexplained cough (may have bloody mucus)
So, now that have learned what is important to look out for...
What can be done to prevent this complication?
· Early ambulation (walking) is key, follow your surgeon’s discharge instructions on walking carefully
· Wearing elastic compression stockings
· Sequential compression devices (SCDs) that inflate on the leg muscles
· Prescribed medications by your surgeon
· Do not sit or lie for long periods of time while awake
· Change positions frequently
· Exercise legs every 1-2 hours while in bed
· Stretch legs with “heel to toe” and move feet in circular motion
· Deep breaths and cough when needed
· Use incentive spirometer every 1-2 hours while awake
· Check vital signs and pay attention to changes closely
· Maintain well hydrated
· No smoking/ maintain healthy lifestyle/ balanced nutrition
Surgery can be an exciting time especially when it is elective and planned! Preparing and doing research on facilities, surgeons, post op care providers, checking credentials, and locations helps with minimizing risks that can occur in the operating room.
Sometimes, nature takes its course, and we don’t expect for complications to arise but, it’s important to remain calm, and have a plan in action when they do. Knowledge is power. I love to empower my patients and followers with all the information, tools, and resources to ensure a successful post op recovery!
Michelle C. BSN, RN.
Healing Corner & Co.
Disclaimer: I am not a Medical Doctor or Physician of any kind. This information is not meant to serve as medical advice. This blog entry is simply for educational purposes and to serve as a resource. Please seek the care of an MD or physician for medical consultation or further questions/evaluation.
Blood Clots. (NIH, 2016). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/bloodclots.html
Blood Clots 10 Things to Know. (2021). Retrieved from https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/heart-health/blood-clots-10-things-to-know