Preventing Blood Clots

How Can I Prevent a Blood Clot?

What are Blood Clots?

What Causes Blood Clots?

How Can I tell if I have a Blood Clot?

Questions to Ask Your Health Care Team about Blood Clots


How Can I Prevent a Blood Clot?

You can help prevent a blood clot when you are in the hospital and when you return home after surgery by following your care team’s instructions. These instructions may include:

  1. Use blood-thinning medications as directed.

Blood-thinning medications are the most effective way to prevent blood clots, especially after major surgery. If your care team prescribes a blood-thinning medication, take it exactly as directed. Do not skip any doses. You may need to continue taking it when you return home. 

  1. Walk soon after surgery.

With approval from your care team, get out of bed and walk at least three times each day or more if possible.

  1. Wear sequential compression devices (SCDs) even when sitting, lying down, and sleeping.

SCDs are sleeves that wrap around your legs and when turned on fill with air (compress) to keep blood circulating. SCDs are helpful only when they are on your leg, turned on, and working.

It is our recommendation to wear your SCDs at least 18 hours a day. Do not remove them except for bathing or exercise. Ask for guidance about your specific needs related to an SCD.


What are Blood Clots?

Fifty percent of blood clots occur during or soon after hospitalization or surgery and can be fatal. Blood clots are also called venous thromboembolisms (VTE). As many as 100,000 people die because of blood clots each year. Three in 10 people who have a blood clot will develop another within 10 years.

Blood clots often are preventable. You can help reduce your personal risk for developing blood clots by following your care team’s instructions while you are in the hospital and following surgery.  

There are two types of blood clots:

  1. A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in veins in the lower leg or calf, and can extend to the large deep veins of the upper legs or thighs. Less often, a VTE can form in the arm or other veins.
  2. A pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when a DVT breaks free and travels to the lungs, blocking some or all the blood supply.  Clots in the thigh are more likely to break free than clots in the leg or other parts of the body.


What Causes Blood Clots?

Some conditions, activities, and medications that can interfere with blood flow may increase your risk for developing blood clots. For example:

  • Being hospitalized or having surgery
  • Not moving for long periods, such as during bed rest or extended travel
  • Older age
  • Obesity
  • A family history of blood clots
  • Recent or recurring cancer
  • Smoking
  • Chronic health conditions
  • During and just after pregnancy
  • Injury and trauma
  • Estrogen-based medicine such as hormonal birth control or hormone replacement therapy


How Can I Tell if I Have a Blood Clot?

Blood clots may or may not cause symptoms. Contact your care team immediately if you notice one or more of these symptoms:

  • Swelling, tenderness or pain in your lower leg or calf
  • Redness or warmth of the skin in your lower leg or calf
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain


Questions to Ask Your Health Care Team about Blood Clots

Before surgery or hospitalization ask your care team:

  1. Am I at risk for a blood clot?
  2. Do I need preventive treatment to keep me from having a blood clot?

When you are preparing to leave the hospital, ask your care team:

  1. What can I do to continue to prevent blood clots from developing once I am at home?
  2. What are the signs and symptoms of a blood clot?
  3. Whom should I contact if I think I have a blood clot?

At home:

  1. Follow your care team’s instructions for preventing blood clots and take all medication as prescribed.
  2. Move your arms and legs to help prevent blood clots from forming.