Yes Dad, Patients Can Die from a Blood Clot

By Trisha Fronczek

Last year, a family friend died unexpectedly from a blood clot in his lungs (aka pulmonary embolus). The first words out of my dad’s mouth were, “How can someone die from a blood clot?” As a nurse, I paused to even begin to answer this question and then realized that my dad needed to be educated. As we kick off March and DVT Awareness Month let’s talk about the Blood Clot Trail!

So dad, here is some education on blood clots:

What causes a blood clot?

  • Blood clots are formed when blood flow in a vein SLOWS, a vein is damaged, or when blood becomes more clotable. Common risk factors are:
    • Immobility – hospitalization, traveling, paralyzed, etc.
    • Surgery or Trauma – major surgery, bone fracture with/without cast, catheter like a PICC line in place
    • Increased Estrogens – birth control pills, patches, rings, pregnancy (even up to 6 weeks post birth), hormone therapy
    • Medical Conditions – cancer, chemotherapy, heart failure, inflammatory disorders, nephrotic syndrome
    • “Other” – history, family history, clotting disorder, obesity, older age, cigarette smoking, varicose veins

Yikes! You just described every patient we have ever cared for or are seen in my nursing department! What can you do to help your patient prevent that blood clot?

Tips for preventing a blood clot in our patients

  • Keep those patients ACTIVE.
  • Patient’s aren’t active?
    • Are they a candidate for anticoagulation medication?
    • Should they have on compression stockings or sequential compression device?
  • Talk to your patient about managing their weight
  • Talk to your patient about quitting smoking. Another reason to kick the habit
  • Educate your patient about need to prevent a blood clot and signs and symptoms to be aware of

Signs and Symptoms of a blood clot to look for in our patients

  • Patient is complaining of pain in their legs (especially the calf area)
  • Swelling (one leg will look bigger than other)
  • Discoloration of the extremity (because lack of circulation to area)
  • Warmth
  • Complaints of:
    • Shortness of breath
    • Chest Pain
    • Unexplained cough (possibly bloody)
    • Unexplained rapid heart rate

If you find any of these signs or symptom in your patients, then seek expert consultation immediately. Every second counts!

Some communities and websites I found helpful to compile this blog and think about educating my patients are:

Remember that when are patients are moving, that so is their blood! Let’s hit the nursing trail!

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