Four tips to protect against dangerous blood clots during and after surgery
Every surgery increases the risk of deep vein thrombosis and deadly pulmonary embolism
The family of Angelo Henderson recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a Michigan surgeon. Angelo was a well-known and respected Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist.
According to the lawsuit, Angelo had a surgery about three weeks before his death, but the surgeon did not prescribe blood thinners or physical therapy. Angelo died at home, at the age of 51, from a massive pulmonary embolism.
As an experienced Texas medical malpractice lawyer, I have handled similar cases, where people have developed blood clots and died on the operating room table, or within a short time after surgery, from pulmonary embolism.
Why are blood clots a problem during and after surgery?
Any time you have a surgery, you are at risk for developing blood clots.
Surgery itself can release foreign matter, like pieces of tissue, into your bloodstream. The blood responds to the foreign body by clotting around it. In addition, the surgery itself can trigger your body to release natural substances that promote clotting.
Beyond the clots formed as a result of the physical trauma that your body endures from surgery, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a particularly worrisome type of clot associated with surgery.
A DVT refers to clots that form in the deep veins in your legs, arms, or pelvic area. If clots break off from a DVT and travel to the lungs, heart, or brain, they can block blood flow and cause devastating injury or even death. When a blood clot travels to the lungs, it is called a pulmonary embolism.
You are more likely to form clots or deep vein thrombosis after surgery because of the time that you are not moving around during surgery and for the days or weeks you are recovering after the surgery. This is why most doctors encourage patients to get up and start moving around quickly after surgery.
Think about this—our hearts are always pumping blood, but for the blood to circulate properly, our muscles need to be working and moving. Otherwise, gravity tends to cause blood to pool or collect in the lower parts of our body, usually the legs and hip or pelvic regions. Pooling blood is more likely to clot.
How to protect against blood clots
When you are talking with your surgeon about having a procedure, make sure that you provide as complete information as possible concerning your medical history, family history, and any medications that you are taking. Do you have a history of blood clots? What about any family history of clotting problems? Your doctor also needs to know about all of the medicines that you are taking, because some of them may cause an increased risk for clotting that the surgeon needs to know about.
Before the surgery, ask your surgeon or doctor about whether he will be prescribing any blood thinners, like aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), or heparin. If so, be sure to take the medication as ordered in the prescription.
During the surgery, the operating room staff will typically elevated your arms and legs, to help increase circulation. They will also normally use leg compression devices, like the one shown in the photo. These devices have cuffs that surround your legs, and the machine fills them with air to squeeze your legs. This causes more blood to flow through your legs and helps to prevent clots from forming.
Most surgeons and doctors will give their patients instructions to get up and moving very quickly after a surgery. Follow those instructions because it can help prevent blood clots from forming.
Symptoms of blood clots
Hematologists are doctors who have specialized training in blood-related conditions and disorders. The American Society of Hematology reports that around 900,000 people a year develop DVTs in the United States alone, and as many as 100,000 a year die from them.
According to the Society, here are the symptoms of blood clots that you should be aware of:
Heart: Chest heaviness or pain, discomfort in other areas of the upper body, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, light-headedness
Brain: Weakness of the face, arms or legs, difficulty speaking, vision problems, sudden and severe headache, dizziness
Arms or Legs: Sudden or gradual pain, swelling, tenderness and warmth
Lungs: Sharp chest pain, racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, fever, coughing up blood
Abdomen: Severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea
If you experience any of these symptoms after a surgery, you should contact your doctor or get to the emergency room as soon as possible. There are a number of ways that blood clots can be treated, including anticoagulant medications that prevent blood clots from forming, thrombolytic medicines that dissolve clots, and even surgical removal of a clot in a procedure called a thrombectomy.
We are here to help
If you, or someone you care for, has been injured by a blood clot or pulmonary embolism, then contact the experienced Texas medical malpractice lawyers at Painter Law Firm for a free evaluation of your potential case. Our telephone number is 281-580-8800.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.
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A physician has to supervise the care and prescriptions of nurse practitioners and physician assistants under written, signed agreements
On 4/1/2018, the new law will end the current practice where doctors can secretly enter a DNR order against patient and family wishes
This article was originally published in the September/October 2017 edition of "The Houston Lawyer" magazine
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