Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this story, I need to start off with a staggering statistic. “Sudden death is the first symptom in about one-quarter (25%) of people who have a Pulmonary Embolism (PE)” (CDC).
“I’m too young to have a blood clot”….. or so I thought.
I was convinced it was an “old person” medical problem, not someone under 40 years old. My day started out normal; took our daughter to school, fed the dogs, made breakfast, logged into work.
Over lunch, I decided I wanted to wash some fresh strawberries, so I ran downstairs to get the white vinegar to soak them for a bit. When I got back upstairs, I was indescribably out of breath. I leaned on the kitchen cabinets with my arms above my head, as if that was going to bring relief to my burning lungs.
This was definitely more than an “out of shape” out of breath.
I mustered the courage to walk to the living room, in fear of passing out, to work on calming down. After about 10 minutes, I felt better. I got my strawberries soaking and got back to work.
I decided to put my Apple watch on and figure out where my heart rate was sitting. It was over 140 at that time and resting throughout the day was around 110-115. Every time I got out of my chair, my heart rate shot up to the 140 range again.
I did some Googling of symptoms…yes, I know what you’re going to say. Bad idea.
Unsurprisingly, Google told me I was dying, and in all honesty, I was pretty darn close. It also told me to call 911. But I had things to do, so that was a hard pass.
The afternoon continued; I finished work, made tacos for dinner, ate with the family, and retired to the couch. That’s when I told my husband what I had been experiencing that day and that I was pretty sure I had a pulmonary embolism. He asked me what that meant, and I let him know it was a blood clot in my lung and that I should go to the hospital.
With that said, I continued to avoid the inevitable, watched some TV and finally went to bed. At this point I had severe pain in my chest. It didn’t matter what position I was in, it hurt.
Around 1:00 AM, I decided I should probably go to the hospital. I got up, put some clothes on, woke up my husband, and proceeded to tell him I was going to go to the ER. He shot straight up in bed and said, “What should I do?!” I told him to stay home with our daughter and I’d keep him in the loop.
Fast forward several hours, I ended up being correct in my self-diagnosis. I had a “large pulmonary embolism involving almost all lobes and significantly occluding the right pulmonary artery and elevated troponin hypoxia”. Laymen terms: I was lucky to be alive.
I had an ultrasound of both legs and found my right leg to be chocked full of blood clots (Deep Vein Thrombosis, or DVT), thigh to ankle.
Off to the ICU I went, and I put on a heparin drip (an anticoagulant, a.k.a. blood thinner). The doctors performed a procedure where they inserted guide wires into my jugular vein in my neck and they were led through my heart, to my lungs, and directly on top of the largest clots to attempt to “bust” them up.
Here I was, 39 years old, in the ICU with blood clots that could have very well prevented me from waking up that next morning. I have a young daughter, a loving husband, and two dogs that needed me to live. I still couldn’t believe what was happening, or even more important why it was happening.
Here is a list of risk factors (mine are in bold) and signs and symptoms of clots, and then finally my non-medical advice.
Risk Factors of Blood Clots:
- Hospitalization (illness or surgery)
- Major surgery (e.g., pelvis, abdomen, hip, knee)
- Severe trauma (e.g., car accident)
- Injury to a vein (caused by a broken bone or severe muscle injury)
- Hip or knee replacement surgery
- Cancer or cancer treatments
- Use of birth control methods (containing estrogen – *however it can be progesterone-based pills as well, as it was in my experience*)
- Pregnancy, including up to six weeks after birth
- Hormone therapy (containing estrogen)
- Family history of blood clots
- Confinement to bed or wheelchair
- Sitting too long, especially with legs crossed
- Age 55 or older
- Long-term diseases of the heart or lungs, or diabetes
Symptoms of DVTs in arms or legs:
- Pain or tenderness, not caused by injury
- Skin that is warm to the touch
- Redness or discoloration of the skin
Symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism in lungs:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain that worsens with a deep breath or laying down
- Coughing, or coughing up blood
- Faster than normal or irregular heartbeat
You can learn a lot more about blood clots, specifically DVTs or PEs, at www.stoptheclot.org.
Blood clots can happen to anyone, it does not matter your age, gender, or other pre-disposed factors. Obviously, some things can contribute to a higher risk of clotting, however, even the most healthy people who run miles a day or have a strict workout routine can suffer from blood clots.
When it comes to the end of the day, my non-medical advice is “listen” to your body. Trust your gut. When you “feel” or think something is wrong, it probably is. Do not ignore it like I did for hours on end. Seek medical attention and take care of yourself better than I was taking care of myself prior to my PE/DVTs!
Also, check out this information about Women & Blood Clots – it’s eye opening to say the least.
“Data and Statistics on Venous Thromboembolism.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dvt/data.html#:~:text=Sudden%20death%20is%20the%20first,people%20who%20have%20a%20PE.&text=10%25%20%E2%80%93%2030%25%20of%20people,within%20one%20month%20of%20diagnosis. Accessed September 7, 2022.
“About Clots.” National Blood Clot Alliance, Stop the Clot. https://www.stoptheclot.org/about-clots/. Accessed September 7, 2022.
Make sure you never miss out on a parenting or community-related blog post: sign up to receive Cedar Rapids Moms posts in your inbox. While you’re at it, join our VIP List to ensure you’re one of the first to know about upcoming Cedar Rapids Moms’ events and promotions!