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A Good Defense Can Win the Game: What Athletes Need to Know About Blood Clots

Know the Signs and Symptoms of VTE

While both Bosh and Williams have recovered, not everyone is so lucky: 1 in 4 people worldwide die from conditions caused by blood clots. The good news is that in most cases, if caught early enough, VTE is treatable. While athletes are not always considered at risk — even by their primary health provider — they should know the signs, symptoms, and risk factors:

  • Swelling, usually in the leg (although it can also occur in the arm especially in weight lifters, gymnasts, and rowers)
  • Leg or arm pain or tenderness, usually described as a cramp or charley horse
  • Reddish or bluish skin discoloration
  • A leg or arm that is warm to the touch

Symptoms of PE include these signs:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain that is sharp and stabbing, and may get worse with deep breaths
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fainting or passing out
  • Unexplained cough, sometimes with bloody mucus

How to Treat the Condition in Athletes

Treatment is individualized, particularly for young, apparently healthy individuals such as athletes. Although treatment usually involves blood-thinning medications known as anticoagulants and, in some cases, thrombolytic agents, which are clot-busting drugs given intravenously or by catheters inserted into the clots.

If your doctor prescribes blood-thinning medications, it’s important to remember that playing contact sports while on anticoagulants can lead to life-threatening bleeding. Always talk to your doctor before returning to an activity and before stopping your medications.

How to Prevent VTE in Athletes

It is important to assess your risk for VTE based on preexisting conditions. Take the following steps to prevent VTE:

  • Take breaks and stretch your legs when traveling long distance.
  • Stay well hydrated (during and after strenuous sporting events and travel).
  • Know the signs and symptoms of DVT and PE; seek early medical attention if they occur.
  • Recognize that DVT and PE can occur in athletes.
  • Know whether you have a family history of blood clots.
  • In case of major surgery, trauma, or prolonged immobility, or when in a cast, ask your doctor whether you should receive DVT prophylaxis and, if yes, for how long.

As with so many things in life, the best way to prevent serious complications from thrombosis is to arm yourself with knowledge. When you are empowered with awareness, you can effectively advocate for your own health, just as Williams did during her second PE.

Understand the risk factors for a serious clot, learn the signs, and know when to seek medical attention. For more information about your risk for VTE and other clotting disorders, visit www.WorldThrombosisDay.org.

Jeffrey I. Weitz, MD, is a professor of medicine and biochemistry and biomedical sciences at McMaster University and the executive director of the Thrombosis and Atherosclerosis Research Institute in Hamilton, Canada. Board-certified in internal medicine, hematology, and medical oncology, Dr. Weitz focuses his clinical work in the area of thrombosis. He holds the Heart and Stroke Foundation's J.F. Mustard–endowed chair in cardiovascular research and the Canada research chair in thrombosis. Weitz has authored more than 500 peer-reviewed papers and 65 textbook chapters. He is coeditor of Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice, 6th Edition, president-elect of the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis, and a founding member of the World Thrombosis Day steering committee.

Last Updated:10/16/2018
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Date: 05.12.2018, 21:17 / Views: 54461