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Information for Patients about Blood Clot Prevention

How Do I Prevent Blood Clots?

Blood clots claim more over 100,000 lives yearly in the United States. Yet as serious a health issue as blood clots are, studies have shown at-risk patients often don’t receive treatments known to help prevent them.

The Johns Hopkins Venous Thromboembolism (VTE) Collaborative has developed a video and an educational handout to better engage patients and their loved ones as partners in preventing blood clots.

The handout is also available in:

Content from the handout is adapted below. 

What is a blood clot or venous thromboembolism (VTE)?

Blood clots are called venous thromboembolisms (VTE). There are two main types:

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a clot in a deep vein, usually an arm or leg
  • Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a clot that has broken off and traveled to the lungs. This can cause death.

Are blood clots serious?

VTE kills over 100,000 people every year in the United States. This is more than the number of deaths caused by AIDS, motor vehicle collisions and breast cancer combined.

VTE can cause problems that may affect you for the rest of your life. You may have:

  • long-term problems with breathing
  • a higher chance of getting another clot
  • swelling that will not go away
  • sores or wounds that will not heal

How do I know if I have a blood clot?

Some people who have VTE may not have any symptoms.

People with DVT may have the following in an arm or leg:

  • swelling
  • pain or cramping
  • redness, tenderness or warmth

People with PE may experience:

  • shortness of breath or are unable to catch their breath
  • pain in the rib cage area
  • coughing up blood

What causes blood clots?

People who are in the hospital have a higher chance of getting a VTE. Other things that raise your chance of getting a clot:

  • previous DVT/PE
  • major surgery
  • trauma
  • obesity
  • recent stroke
  • family history of VTE
  • bedrest
  • varicose veins
  • blood diseases
  • pregnancy
  • cancer and/or chemotherapy
  • birth control pills and/or hormone replacement therapy

What are the most common tests my care team may order to see if I have a blood clot?

Depending on your situation you may have:

  • a blood test called a D-Dimer
  • an ultrasound of the arm or leg to look for the DVT
  • a CAT scan of the chest with intravenous dye to look for PE
Compression socksSequential compression devices gently squeeze the legs to improve blood flow and prevent clot formation.

How can I prevent a blood clot?

When you come to the hospital, the care team will look at all the risks you may have to get a clot. They then order what is best for you, to help stop a clot from starting.

  • Medicines are the best way to stop a clot from forming. The 2 main medicines that are used to help prevent clots are heparin and enoxaparin (Lovenox). Some people call them blood thinners. These are shots that will be given to you usually in the belly.
  • Special stockings also can help prevent clots. Sequential Compression Devices (SCDs) use a machine and squeeze the legs or feet gently. They need to be on as much as possible to help prevent clots. You may also be ordered compression stockings or TED hose. These also help with blood flow.

Although many people think walking around prevents blood clots, this is not true. Moving around and walking are important to keep you well and can help prevent things like pneumonia and bedsores. Walking by itself does not prevent clots. This is why your care plan should also include medications and/or SCDs and/or compression stockings your care team has ordered.

What happens if I do get a blood clot?

Depending on your specific condition you may need:

  • an IV medicine such as heparin
  • to take shots such as enoxaparin (lovenox)
  • to take pills such as warfarin (Coumadin), rivaroxiban (Xarelto), or dabigatran (Pradaxa)
  • to take these medicines for months or possibly your whole life
  • to wear special stockings such as TEDs which can decrease your risk of long term problems that can be caused from having clots
  • a special filter placed in a vein to “catch” the blood clot if it breaks free. Many of these can be removed after the danger from these clots have passed

Additional Resources

  • Educate and Learn in the same minute. Listen to VTE collaborative team member and nurse educator, Dauryne L. Shaffer, share her experience with educating patients about VTE.
  • Watch videos
  • Browse research


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