How to Handle Anxiety After Blood Clots

I’m frequently asked, “does the anxiety after blood clots ever go away?” My answer is, “usually it gets better, but it takes time – sometimes it takes a long time.” Health-related anxiety after a blood clot is something that many people experience, and it is something that I have dealt with – and still deal with – six years after a DVT and PE changed my life forever. While I still face anxiety from time to time, it does not completely rule my life. That is what I hope for you too, and that is what I mean when I say, “it does get better in time.”

A blood clot in my lung is one of the scariest things I have ever experienced. If you’re feeling that too, you’re not alone. The anxiety I felt after my blood clot was debilitating, and healing from it was just as hard – if not harder – than healing from the physical problems I faced. For me, the anxiety would start with a small ripple, just the smallest thought thrown into the pool of my mind, like a stone: What if that tight muscle isn’t just a tight muscle? The stone would sink, and the ripples would spread out: What if it’s a blood clot? I think it hurts to put pressure on my leg. Farther and farther: I’m not sure if I can breathe. I must have a blood clot. I can’t go through this pain again. I won’t survive this one. My thoughts would escalate until there was nothing else on my mind, except what might be wrong with me.

No one doubted that I believed I had a reason to be afraid, but no one in my personal life really understood what I was going through. On the outside, I looked fine. My initial days, weeks and months after my blood clot were filled with frantic phone calls to my doctor – and his nursing staff – to ask about a current pain, feeling, sign or symptom of something that was, without doubt, going to be the end of me. My doctor was supportive and listened to my concerns. He told me I was normal for being worried. He usually instructed me in one of three ways: Watch something for a progression of symptoms and call back, make an appointment to come see him as soon as possible, or head to the ER to get checked out. I have done them all. Through this (repeated) process, I have since learned what I can watch myself, when I need to make a phone call, or when I need to go to the hospital.

It has been six years since my blood clots, and I don’t focus on the fear from day to day anymore. It took me a long time to heal, though, and it wasn’t always easy. While I was recovering, I spent months and months wondering if my health would improve, or if something else would happen that would leave me with more problems, or worse yet, dead. Living with antiphospholipid syndrome – or APS, which is the autoimmune clotting disorder responsible for blood clots – makes it hard for me to go back to the way I was. APS could progress, or create more serious problems, such as problems with my organs or stroke, so I can’t ignore changes in my health. Taking warfarin – an anticoagulant to prevent future blood clots – has changed my life in several significant ways. I get my blood tested regularly, and I take some extra precautions – like calling my doctor – if I hurt myself or notice anything unusual, such as bleeding or bruising when or where I shouldn’t be bleeding or bruising.

Even though my daily life is not consumed by “what ifs” with regard to my health, there are times when it still gets to me, and there are times when my anxiety still takes over. I have always been an anxious person, especially about my health, but my blood clot experience – and my APS diagnosis – has added another layer to my anxiety. When I was a child, I always thought I would have the “worst-case scenario” disease or injury, when in reality, I was a pretty healthy child (except for an underactive thyroid). When the worst-case scenario did happen to me – a life-threatening blood clot at just 29 years old and diagnosis of a disease that no one had ever heard of (or that no one could pronounce) – it seemed that all of my childhood fears had come true.

Sometimes these deeply embedded fears, combined with what I went through with my blood clots, get the best of me. Last Monday, I woke up with a pain in my stomach that felt a little bit like bloating, but it wouldn’t go away. It lasted two days, during which time I convinced myself it was massive internal bleeding. So, I had my INR checked and found out it was within my normal range. Given that I had no other symptoms besides pain, I made an appointment with my primary care physician who ran some tests and concluded that it was one of two things: indigestion or the start of my menstrual cycle. The latter proved to be true – within hours of leaving my doctor’s office – and I felt relief from my stomach pain. I relaxed, confident that I had talked to my doctor and everything pointed to my period.

The next day, I had a strange sensation in my head and some weird anomalies in my vision, which worried me. Vision changes can be a concern for people on certain medications and for people with APS. I believe I experienced on ocular migraine, which the Internet said (thank you, Internet) could be a result of disrupted blood flow in the brain. I panicked – and ran with blurred vision – to tell my husband. In my heightened state of fear, I managed to trip and fall halfway down the staircase, twisting my ankle and banging my back on the bottom step. Now, I knew I was bleeding internally and would need ankle surgery too.

I wasn’t bleeding – thankfully – and my ankle pain resolved after ice and rest. I decided to live out the week – and maybe the rest of the year – in a bubble. In all seriousness, though, I am concerned about what happened with my vision, and wondering about it sent my anxiety into overdrive. An appointment with my eye doctor didn’t reveal any immediate problems, but we’re keeping an eye on my symptoms.

I know, though, that I will be okay. What I have learned since my blood clots is that healing is a process – and it is something that I constantly work to obtain. My healing wasn’t linear, it didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t heal in all aspects of my life all at once. My journey to healing was filled with twists and turns, ups and downs, and bumps in the road. At times, I would take three steps forward and eight steps back to a place where I had just come from. It took me years to repair my physical health, my financial health, my self-esteem, and my relationships. I am still working on healing my emotional health.

Over the years – and since I have gained some distance from the time when my blood clot happened – I have learned a few simple things that have helped me deal with anxiety after blood clots. Ignoring it was not helpful. Wishing it would go away – and not doing anything about it – was not helpful. Telling myself to suck it up – and get over it – was not helpful.

Here is how to handle your health-related anxiety after a blood clot:
Trust yourself – and be kind to yourself.

If you think something is wrong – or different – you’re probably right. Give yourself some credit after everything you have been through. If you have a question or a concern – whether physical or emotional – allow yourself to feel that. Your body has a way of telling you when something is wrong. Honor that relationship and get it checked out.

Talk to your doctor.

Your doctor should be your number one go-to when you have a concern about your health. No matter how small – or big – you think your concern is, communicate with your healthcare team. Sometimes, even the smallest symptom or problem might be a sign of something serious. Or, it may turn out to be something insignificant, but at least you know. You have to nurture your physical and emotional health. There is no sense in worrying about something, if you can get it checked out instead. Take your trust in your body’s signals and contact a medical professional to help you figure out what may – or may not – be going on. Both outcomes are okay!

Keep a journal or log of your symptoms.

I love journaling a lot of different aspects of my life – work tasks, travels, stories, blog posts, recipes – so this comes easy to me. If journaling doesn’t come easy for you, that’s okay. Start by getting a notebook – or the notepad on your phone – and just make a list of what is happening to you. If you have a question or a concern, write it down. Write the date, what occurred, how long it lasted, how you felt, and what you did about it. This is helpful because when your doctor asks if anything is new, you have it all right there in front of you. If you make an appointment to see your doctor for an issue, your doctor will ask for details. Be prepared ahead of time and pull out your notes.

Seek help for the emotional aspect of recovery.

Sometimes, we can’t do it all alone, even if we try. Often times, people wouldn’t find it unusual to contact a physical therapist for help with movement and motion after surgery, for example, but they are afraid to contact a counselor or psychologist for help with emotional healing. Do not be afraid. Just like our bodies, our minds may need help to heal. You would never expect to heal physically from a blood clot without medical intervention from a doctor. Equally, if you are struggling on your own, you should not expect to heal emotionally without assistance from a professional. If you need help, talk to your doctor. He or she can direct you to these services.

Have patience with the process.

I was not patient during my recovery from blood clots. Looking back, though, I can see that time was perhaps the most critical factor in my recovery. It took time to heal physically – and it is taking time to heal emotionally. There was nothing I could have done to speed it along. Blood clots are life-changing and traumatic for many people. Trauma is not healed in a day, a week, or even a month or two. It can take a very long time to heal. It is so hard to be patient when you want to desperately to feel better, but sometimes, time is what it takes to get to where you want to be. Your body – and your mind – have been through a lot. Allow them to take the time they need to heal.

Don’t forget, it’s important to talk to people who understand what you are going through – because they have been there too. Join my private Facebook Group for more peer support.

There is hope for healing, and you are not alone.

 

 


Reader Writes In: Do you struggle with health-related anxiety? If so, what are your thoughts for dealing with it? Share in the comments. I would love to hear from you, and your comments are so helpful to the other people who read this blog.


Get my resources for emotional healing from blood clots here.


You are not alone. Connect with the private BCRN Facebook community for more inspiration and encouragement.

10 Things to Know About APS

Shortly after I was diagnosed with blood clots, I was diagnosed with antiphospholipid syndrome, or APS. When my doctor gave me the news I was still in the hospital, and I had no idea how to say “antiphospholipid” let alone did I understand what it meant. I gathered from the concerned faces in the room – my doctor’s and my husband’s – that it was something horrible, but I was in too much pain from my blood clots to think much more about it at the time. It wasn’t until I got home from the hospital and started looking online that I learned more about this disease. What I found out scared me.

Antiphospholipid syndrome is an autoimmune disease in which your blood clots abnormally because your body mistakenly produces antibodies that attack phospholipids, a type of fat that plays a key role in clotting. It can lead to an increased risk for blood clots, like the DVT and PE that I experienced. It can be called lupus anticoagulant, antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, or Hughes syndrome (primarily in Europe). APS can be different for everyone. Some people do not experience blood clots, and some people have ongoing, or serious, health complications like stroke or heart problems. Some people even carry these antibodies in their blood, but they never cause an issue.

There is no cure for APS, but there is treatment, which usually involves preventing recurrent blood clots with an anticoagulant. If you have been diagnosed with APS, it is critical that you get connected with a doctor who understands this disease, and who can help determine what the best treatment is for you. An APS diagnosis is frightening and overwhelming, but it is also manageable. It’s important to learn about it, and connect with people who understand, such as a knowledgeable doctor or medical team, and people who share your experience.

Here are ten things I wish I knew from the start:

1. APS is an autoimmune disease, but it’s not the same as lupus.

Lupus and antiphospholipid syndrome share many traits, but they are not the same disease, due to the antibodies that are present. Like antiphospholipid syndrome, lupus is an autoimmune disease. It’s likely that lupus results from a combination of your genetics and your environment too. About 50 percent of people with lupus do have antiphospholipid antibodies (Source: Johns Hopkins).

2. APS affects women more than men, and it is a major cause of recurrent miscarriage and pregnancy complications, when no other issues are found.

Women are generally more affected by antiphospholipid syndrome than men, but it can still happen to anyone. If you are a female who has struggled with recurrent miscarriages or stillbirths for no apparent reason, it might be a good idea to touch base with your doctor about whether or not APS is something you need to be concerned about or investigate further.

3. There is specific criteria to diagnose APS, and just because a person has the antibodies, does not mean he or she has antiphospholipid syndrome.

There are three blood tests that are used to diagnose APS: lupus anticoagulant, anticardiolipin, and anti-B2 glycoprotein I. These blood tests detect abnormal proteins – also called antibodies – in the blood. If APS is suspected, a person is usually tested using all three of these blood tests, because each test individually cannot detect all of the antibodies. At least one of these tests must prove positive and be confirmed on two occasions, no less than three months apart. Certain clinical criteria must also occur to confirm an APS diagnosis, such as one or more miscarriages, or a clotting event (Source: APS Foundation of America, Inc.).

Positive tests results without a blood clot, for example, does not mean a person has this disease. There are people who have the antibodies, but they do not have antiphospholipid syndrome. Diagnosis of APS can be complicated, so it is best to talk to your doctor about your individual situation.

4. APS can cause many other health problems.

Depending on if, and which, organs are affected by restricted blood flow due, usually from blood clots, and for how long, antiphospholipid syndrome can cause significant, or even permanent damage. These complications can include kidney failure, stroke, cardiovascular problems (heart damage, circulatory problems), lung problems (pulmonary hypertension and PE), and pregnancy problems (miscarriages and stillbirths).

In very rare cases, APS can progress to a chronic state known as catastrophic antiphospholipid syndrome (CAPS), which can cause widespread organ failure, and even death.

5. There are risk factors for APS.

A person’s own immune system causes antiphospholipid syndrome by producing antibodies that attack healthy cells, but doctors aren’t really sure why. These antibodies may be triggered by an environmental factor, such as an infection, that occurs in an individual who has a genetic background that makes him or her more susceptible to the disease. The exact genetic component of APS is, however, unknown at this time (Source: American College of Rheumatology).

6. There are signs and symptoms of APS.

There are symptoms of antiphospholipid syndrome, but sometimes, these symptoms can also be a result of other health concerns, which is why APS can be difficult to detect. Some of the symptoms include blood clots (DVT and PE), multiple miscarriages or stillbirths, stroke, transitory ischemic attack (TIA, or “mini” stroke), rash or skin ulcers, neurological problems (chronic migraines, headaches, or even seizures), cardiovascular problems (damage to heart valves), and bleeding (decrease in platelets, which can make symptoms hard to detect). (Source: APS Foundation of America, Inc.)

7. Prompt and accurate diagnosis of APS is very important.

Just like blood clots, timely and accurate diagnosis of APS is very important. The sooner a person is diagnosed with antiphospholipid syndrome, the sooner he or she can begin a treatment plan to reduce or eliminate symptoms of the disease. Connecting with a specialist, like a hematologist or rheumatologist, is important to diagnose and treat APS, because it is a very specialized, and sometimes complicated, disease. You can read more about how prompt diagnosis and treatment helped to save my life here.

8. There is no cure for APS, but there is treatment.

Medications, like anticoagulants, can reduce your risk for blood clots, and as a result, many of the problems that can occur has a result of blood clots. Generally speaking, APS patients are treated with the oral anticoagulant warfarin, or injections of heparin or low molecular weight heparin. Sometimes, people with APS also take an antiplatelet drug, like aspirin, to reduce their risk for stroke (Source: The National Blood Clot Alliance).

It’s important to address any risk factors for blood clots, such as estrogen for birth control or the treatment of menopause symptoms, obesity, or smoking. It’s also important to address general health concerns like diabetes, other autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

APS antibodies can come and go, but once a person has been diagnosed with the disease, they always have the disease. Treatment plans can vary from individual to individual, so make sure you are working with your healthcare team to ensure the best treatment possible for your situation.

9. There is still a lot to learn about APS.

Doctors – and patients – know more about antiphospholipid syndrome than we used to, but there is still a lot to learn, particularly about where APS comes from and why. Another important area of study is to what extent new oral anticoagulants, or factor Xa inhibitors, are effective at preventing recurrent blood clots in patients with APS.

10. APS is serious, but it is manageable, in most cases.

For many people, treatment of APS is not very different than treating blood clots, and management of the disease is often focused on managing recurrent symptoms. Taking a blood thinner like warfarin, though, can result in lifestyle changes that are sometimes difficult for patients to undergo. As new advances in technology and treatment emerge, I hope that we can one day find a way to cure or repress this disease.

There is hope for healing, and you are not alone.

 

 


Reader Writes In: What’s one thing you wish you knew about antiphospholipid syndrome when you were diagnosed?


Read more about how I live with antiphospholipid syndrome.


You are not alone. Connect with the private BCRN Facebook community for more inspiration and encouragement.

Living with Antiphospholipid Syndrome

In 2012, I experienced a pain in behind my left knee that felt like someone put my skin and muscles in a vice-grip. I thought it was the recurrence of a running injury, and I decided to rest for the weekend. I soon experienced pain in my side that made it hard to breathe and impossible to lay down flat to sleep. It felt like the air was being slowly, but surely sucked from my lungs as more time passed. At the insistence of my primary care physician, I went to the emergency room, where I was diagnosed with a blood clot in my leg (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) and a life-threatening blood clot in my lung (pulmonary embolism or PE). I was admitted to the intensive care unit, where I stayed for several days as doctors worked to stabilize my situation and waited to see what would happen. When I eventually went home, I faced an extended recovery period that was unlike anything I ever expected.

In a lot of ways, blood clots were just the beginning for me. Shortly after I was diagnosed with DVT and PE, I was also diagnosed with antiphospholipid syndrome, or APS. It is an autoimmune condition in which your blood clots abnormally because your body mistakenly produces antibodies that attack phospholipids, a type of fat that plays a key role in clotting. APS – and to a lesser extent hormonal birth control – was to blame for my blood clots.

It was early June, and since June is APS Awareness Month, my internet searches revealed quite a lot of information about this disease, although it still seems like there is still more to learn. APS affects women much more than it does men, and not a lot is known about how a person acquires it. It is believed to be triggered by an environmental factor, such as an infection in an individual with a genetic makeup that makes him or her more susceptible to the disease, or from an autoimmune condition, like lupus or Sjogren’s syndrome.

Doctors don’t know why I have APS, or why it triggered such extensive clotting in my body. Some people with APS do not develop blood clots at all, however, antiphospholipid antibodies are present in 15 – 20% of all cases of DVT, and in one-third of new strokes occurring in people under the 50 years old (Source). In women, antiphospholipid antibodies can be a major cause of recurrent miscarriages and pregnancy complications. APS can also lead to numerological symptoms like chronic headaches and migraines, heart disease, and bleeding as a result of low platelets, which is another problem that I have encountered. In very rare cases, excessive clotting can lead to widespread organ failure and what is known as catastrophic APS, or CAPS. There is no cure for APS to date, and even though the antibodies can go into remission, the disease never goes away.

I don’t often think of myself as living with a chronic, or long-term disease, but in reality, that is what I am doing. I am fortunate that APS has not caused any additional problems for me, but there are ongoing concerns about my blood’s increased tendency to clot. As a result, my treatment involves taking anticoagulants, or blood thinners, for the foreseeable future, along with some other supplements to maintain the health of my blood, including folic acid, vitamin k, and iron. I also take aspirin, an antiplatelet, to help prevent stroke. I take the blood thinner warfarin, which is the only suitable treatment for me at this time, so I have to get my blood’s PT/INR monitored regularly through vein draws at my doctor’s office to make sure my medication is working properly. Depending on how I am doing, I could have my PT/INR monitored weekly, or every few weeks, it just varies. One thing is for certain though, with warfarin, I can never stop monitoring my blood to ensure its effectiveness, and my safety.

Antiphospholipid syndrome, and blood clots, have changed my life in a lot of ways. I go to more doctor’s appointments and manage my treatment to the best of my ability, which can be time consuming. Managing APS is often the same as managing my future risk for blood clots. I need to take my medication as prescribed and stay in communication with my healthcare team about any changes in my body, or any new concerns I have. I need to talk to my doctors and take precautions if I have surgery or am hospitalized, plan a pregnancy, or become pregnant. I need to remain vigilant for signs and symptoms of blood clots, stroke, and heart disease, and try to make or maintain the lifestyle changes that promote health and happiness, such as eating well, hydrating well, exercising on a regular basis, and making time to de-stress and relax.

Living with APS can also be challenging emotionally, and there are times when I struggle with that more than the physical care I undergo. I sometimes worry about the long-term repercussions of having this disease, and wonder what, if anything, might happen next. Will I wake up one day and have a stroke? Will my heart fail me? Will APS lead to another complication that is not so manageable? I wonder why I got APS in the first place, and I wonder if I could have done something to prevent it, before it led to life-threatening blood clots. It can be hard to overcome these thoughts, and they can bring me down, especially when I am overwhelmed and facing stressful situations, or when I have concerns about something my body might be trying to tell me.

I manage my feelings about living with APS in two ways. One, I have an excellent medical team, including a hematologist, who manages my ongoing care. I get blood work done about every three months to monitor for additional problems, or concerns. I see my doctors regularly for follow-up appointments, and I do not hesitate to call if I have a problem in-between those appointments.

Second, I try to be positive about what I have been through, and where I am going. APS is different for everyone, just like blood clots, and my experience will not be the same as the next person’s experience. If DVT and PE are the worst complications I experience as a result of antiphospholipid syndrome, I know that I have already survived the worst. I continue to hope that perhaps the worst really has come and gone, and each year that I do not have another complication, my hope continues to grow.

The most important thing for me to remember is that although I have an illness that will never go away, I can still live a happy, healthy life. If you have been diagnosed with APS, you need to understand this too. APS is serious, and it is scary. An APS diagnosis can feel like the end of your life, and yes, it can lead to some serious consequences. There is no cure now, however, APS is manageable and treatable in most instances. Make sure you have a specialized medical team, or doctor, and make sure you learn as much as you can about antiphospholipid syndrome. Take care of yourself to the best of your ability, and if you’re struggling to process your diagnosis or treatment, talk to a professional who can provide you with strategies and coping tools for managing chronic illness.

Where to Go for More Information

There is hope for healing, and you are not alone.

 

 


Reader Writes In: Do you have antiphospholipid syndrome or another clotting condition? Share your story in the comments below.


Read more about antiphospholipid syndrome on my blog.


You are not alone. Connect with the private BCRN Facebook community for more inspiration and encouragement.

Roadmap to Health in 2015

roadmap to health 2015

For many of us, myself included, 2014 was a tough year healthwise. While it was nothing the year of my PE, I’ve faced some new challenges that were unexpected. I know many of you share in my struggle and still many more are battling the aftermath of a DVT and/or PE for the first time. You are not alone in your fight, as evidenced by the stories and people here – both those people who have shared their stories and those who are suffering quietly. Your journey may be one you take by yourself, but you are not alone in the obstacles, setbacks, hardships and even triumphs you encounter. We are all on the same type of journey, just taking different paths to get there.

Where is there, you wonder. For me, my journey is seemingly unending, but I am hoping to continue down a path that leads to optimal health and wellness for my individual body. I was diagnosed in 2012 with Antiphospholipid Syndrome, which is believed to be the main cause behind my DVT and subsequent PE. I take Coumadin/warfarin daily and probably will for the rest of my life as there is currently no cure for APS; and my risk of future clotting, including stroke, is too great to risk without medication at just 32 years old. Do I like that I take blood thinners now or forever? No, but it is the best course of treatment at this time. My journey includes continuing to work with my hematologist to ensure I am receiving the best care possible, regain control of my diet and start implementing a not only doable, but sustainable fitness plan back into my daily life.

Achieving ultimate health is like any other journey – full of hills, bumps, detours, closures and even spin-outs along the way. If we’re lucky (which, let’s face it, I’m not), we’ll avoid any major crashes along the way and have to deal with just the occasional stall or engine failure. I like to think of health as a journey and I would like to provide you with a Roadmap to Health in 2015.

Roadmap to A Healthy

Print it out, share it, bookmark it for future reference. Do whatever you can right now to take control of your health.

From me to you, have a very happy holiday season and beautiful New Year.

Reader Writes In. What is included in your Roadmap to Health in 2015? Share it in the comments below!

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

0-BLOG SIGNATURE SARA

Thank you to the American Recall Center for providing this Infographic and the opportunity to include my own insight. Connect with ARC on Facebook today.

The Truth Is

The truth is, I was going to write a post about blood clots in the news lately.

The truth is, now did not feel like the right time to share the news updates. What does feel right, is sharing some truths about blood clots and recovering from blood clots. This is my message to you today.

The truth is recovery is hard. Very hard. Recovering from a DVT or PE is not like recovering from a cold, flu, surgery or injury. It is more like recovering from a heart attack, stroke or cancer. There are days when I feel miserable and days when I feel great and no apparent way to know which day will fall where and when. It is hard to plan things, hard to make commitments, hard to get active, hard to eat right and hard to take care of myself. It’s even hard to get out of bed, get dressed, do my hair, go to work and drive my car. There are some days when everything is hard – no matter how simple the task. I’m not the same person I was pre-PE and I can’t ever go back to that person. Experiencing a traumatic situation that also has the potential to be deadly, changes us in a way so that we can never go back to the person we once were. Are we better or worse? I don’t know, but I do know we are different. I think about situations differently since my PE (everything requires extensive thought and weighing of actions vs. reactions); I respond differently since my PE (I am much more emotional and sensitive, if that’s even possible); and I see life differently (it’s too easy to take it for granted, I almost did and I almost didn’t get a second chance at it). The truth is recovery from a DVT and PE is hard.

The truth is this hurts. Along with being hard, recovering from a DVT and PE just hurts. It hurt so bad in the beginning, I was willing to sacrifice a lung and a leg (even while being a runner) to make the pain stop. It hurt to walk, it hurt to breathe – two very basic tasks so many people take for granted. It hurt to talk, to laugh, to hiccup, to sneeze and to put on pants. As time has gone by, the physical pain has lessened for me, but the emotional pain remains. Recovering from a DVT and PE is a very lonely time and the emotional scars of that loneliness and isolation are not so much like scars yet, but more like open wounds. It hurts to have friends and even family not understand what you’re going through, why it’s taking so long to recover and why you can’t do the things you once did. It hurts to always explain why you’re tired, not well or that yes, you’re still recovering from that lung thing that happened to you. It hurts to feel like sometimes no one cares, no one will listen and no one even gets the pain you’re in. The truth is, recovering from a DVT and PE hurts.

The truth is this is scary. I remain highly anxious since my DVT and PE. There are days when I am nearly convinced it is happening again because I feel a pain in my leg or a stab in my lung. There are nights when I can’t sleep because I replay the story of my PE over and over again in my head – I should have known something was not right, I should have gone to the doctor earlier; maybe if I did, I wouldn’t be in so much pain now. There are nights when I wake up from a nightmare or pain and can’t fall back to sleep because what if I don’t wake up again in the morning? Tests, scans, MRI’s, blood draws, doctors’ visits, new diagnosis, hospitalizations – are all scary. Hearing words we don’t understand like INR, D-Dimer, Factor V, APS, oxygen level, warfarin, blood thinner, bilateral, chronic and acute are scary. The truth is, recovering from a DVT and PE is scary.

The truth is you are not alone. When I was first discharged from the hospital, I had never felt so alone. While I had family and a few close friends who supported me through my hospitalization, none of them have experienced a PE. None of them know exactly what it feels like. I knew no one in my personal life who had gone through what I was going through. I turned to the internet for help and found some resources there, but was still lacking in real-life, down-to-earth, recent stories of people who were going through what I was. Most people I came across, like me, had not even heard of a DVT or PE before it happened to them. I wanted to change that and created BCRN within months of my discharge. You are not alone, you are never alone. If you have a question, someone else has the same question. If you have had an experience, emotion or thought, chances are, someone else has also had it. Share, talk, communicate, find us on Facebook, share here or send me a message. This is a network of people who have been or are going through the same pains, fears, anxieties, challenges and triumphs as you. The truth is, you are not alone in recovering from a DVT and PE.

The truth is it does get better. I can’t tell you when and I can’t tell you how – recovery is different for each and every person. What I can tell you is that it does get better. Now two years out from my DVT and PE, I feel remarkably better than I did at a few weeks, a few months and a year. While I still face day-to-day challenges including chronic fatigue, leg pain, difficulty breathing in hot or cold weather, regular intravenous blood monitoring, managing medication and doctors’ appointments, it is better than it was. Progress is slow and improvement feels miniscule at times (maybe because is it), but it does get better. I have to believe it will get better for you too and while we may face new challenges from here on out, I believe in time, we do get better and there is hope for recovery and healing.

Reader Writes In. What is your truth?

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

0-BLOG SIGNATURE SARA

How to Prepare for Your First Follow-Up Appointment

It can be very overwhelming and scary in the hospital, much less after you are discharged and on your own. After four days in intensive care battling for my life and nearly a week total in the hospital, I was in no frame of mind to ask questions about what happened to me when the time came – much less understand what was needed in terms of follow-up care. I was on some pretty intensive pain relievers and remember everything being very cloudy.  One day, I fell asleep while talking with my father with half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my mouth. I couldn’t carry on a conversation or keep my eyes open for more than a few moments at a time. I remember my first follow-up appointment vividly.  My husband went with me and thought of a few questions I did not.  I was overwhelmed, scared and very grateful to have a hematologist who had answers to most of my questions before I even knew to ask them. I know not everyone is that fortunate so I have put together a list of questions to ask your doctor on your first follow-up appointment.

Tips for your first follow-up appointment:
  1. Take someone with you, if you can. It can be hard to remember of retain what is being discussed.
  2. Take a notepad with you for the same reasons. Do not be afraid to write things down!
  3. Carry records with you from other doctors/hospitalizations that you want your current doctor to know about or have copies of.
  4. Take your list of questions printed ahead of time (or print this list out for reference).
  5. Schedule your next visit prior to leaving. Even if you are given the option, don’t wait so you don’t forget.

Once you are ready for your follow-up appointment, here are some questions you may consider asking, especially early-on in your treatment and diagnosis.

Follow-Up Appointment Questions*

How serious is the extent of the damage from my clotting incident (PE/DVT)?
  • Were any of my organs damaged (heart, lung, etc.) and if so, do I need to take any additional steps to treat?
  • What is the extent of the damage to my veins?
  • Do I (or when do I) need to get a follow-up scan to check the status of the (above) issues?
How will my clot affect my home and work life?
  • When can I return to work?
  • Will I need any special accommodations at work like a chair, stool or the ability to move around?
  • When can I return to exercise? How often and how intense?
  • Do I have any lifting restrictions?
  • Do I have any dietary restrictions?
  • Do I have any travel restrictions?
  • Can I get pregnant and/or breastfeed?
  • What types of over-the-counter medications can I take?
  • Do I need to make any lifestyle changes? (i.e. smoking, diet, exercise, etc.)
What caused my clot?
  • Request testing for genetic and autoimmune clotting conditions? (i.e. Factor V, MTHFR, Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome, etc.)
  • Based on the cause, what are my chances of a reoccurrence of a clot? What do I need to be aware of if a reoccurrence should occur?
  • Do I need to see a(nother) specialist? (i.e. Hematologist, Rheumatologist, Pulmonologist, Neurologist, etc. [Please note: Based on my personal experience, I recommend seeing a Hematologist, especially if you are facing any genetic or autoimmune clotting conditions]
  • Do  I need to be concerned for any family members, including children, who may be at risk for this condition?
Who is the primary contact for my ongoing care?
  • Do I need regular blood draws (INR checks) and where should I go to get those done?
  • What is the procedure for INR checks? (i.e. Are they scheduled or walk-ins? Do you call for results or does the doctor contact you? Etc.)
What is the short-term and long-term prognosis for my condition/future clotting?
  • What can I expect to feel physically in the next month, three months, six months, etc.?
  • What can I expect to feel emotionally in the next month, three months, six months, etc.?
  • How will I know I am improving? How will I know I am not improving?
  • How long can you expect my leg to recover? My lung to recover?
  • What long-term complications do I need to be aware of?
What is the course of treatment for my diagnosis?
  • Do I need to schedule any follow-up scans or tests at this time?
  • What options do I have for treatment? (i.e. different medications)
What medications will I need to take?
  • Who manages my medication?
  • What are the benefits and risks of taking this medication?
What is your preferred method of contact? (i.e. phone, email, fax, etc.)
What types of incidents/concerns do I need to alert you of? (i.e. If I fall and hit my head; If I cut myself; If I take an over-the-counter medication, etc.)
Can you provide any resources for further reading?

Share your story. Do you have any questions to add? Did you ask your doctor any of these questions? What was the hardest question for you to ask? Did your physician take the time to talk to you about your concerns or did you feel dismissed?

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

0-BLOG SIGNATURE SARA

*Please note, these questions are meant to serve as a guideline based on questions I either asked at my follow-up appointment(s) or wished I had asked. What you ultimately discuss is between you and your medical team.