Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) are, without doubt, the most painful injuries I have ever experienced in my life. As a prior athlete, I had become accustomed to pain to some extent. After all, training for a half marathons is not meant to be pain-free. My legs hurt, my feet hurt, my shoulders hurt and even my lungs hurt at different points throughout my training. Growing accustomed to ongoing knee pain actually contributed to a delay in my seeking medical treatment for my DVT because I thought it was a result of a recurring overuse injury. I finally went to the Emergency Room (and only after instruction from my family physician) when I was struggling to breathe. Pain, as I have come to find out, is also a part of recovery from a DVT and PE. As we become more accustomed to pain during recovery, there are three symptoms you should never ignore when it comes to your health.
Learning to gauge what pain is critical and what is a normal part of recovery can be difficult and, above all else, it is important to remain in contact with your physician about your specific symptoms. Pain, for me, comes and goes now, two years out from my DVT and PE. Some days I feel great and other days it is still a struggle to get up, get dressed and walk up the stairs because of pain in my leg affected by DVT or pain in my side from the PE. While the pain has lessened over time, I did not know what pain was normal and what wasn’t in the beginning. Two months after I was admitted to the hospital with the PE, I was re-admitted with pain in my same side, this time as a result of pleurisy (or inflammation of the lining of the lung). I called my doctor and he indicated given my very recent history of PE, it was better to get it checked out than to wait. And, when in doubt and regardless of the perceived severity of your symptoms, get checked out, especially these three symptoms!
As time progressed, I learned to gauge pain, but once again found myself in the ER more recently with a severe headache that lasted over a day and caused blurry vision. That was abnormal for me, something new and a growing concern the longer it persisted. Again, my doctor advised that given my history of clotting and increased risk of stroke due to antiphospholipid syndrome, it was best to get it checked out. In this case, it was just a headache (presumably brought on by lack of sleep and stress and maybe a protruding wisdom tooth), but again, I did not know.
Now, after these experiences, I know there are three symptoms you should never ignore – regardless of your past medical history.
1) Difficulty Breathing/Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath has many different causes. For example, known and chronic heart disease can cause breathlessness if your heart is struggling to pump blood throughout your body.While you can have difficulty breathing with, for example, pneumonia or bronchitis, it can also be a symptom of something life-threatening such as a heart attack or a PE. You should seek immediate medical assistance especially if your symptoms appear suddenly, are long-lasting, are new or do not subside with regular rest.
2) Chest Pains
Causes of chest pain can vary from minor problems, such as indigestion or stress, to serious medical emergencies, such as a heart attack or PE. The specific cause of chest pain is often difficult to diagnose without medical attention. Chest pains that appear suddenly are of significant concern and can be symptoms of a PE, heart attack or even a stroke. Chest pains may present as numbness or tingling in the chest area, back or even the shoulder arm/area. You should seek immediate medical assistance if you experience chest pains that are sudden and unexplained.
3) Headache (sudden onset, long-lasting or especially one that causes changes in vision or speech)
Common types of headaches include tension headaches, migraines, sinus headaches, and headaches that begin in your neck. You can have a headache with a cold or flu or as a result of other illness. They can range from mild to severe in symptoms. Headaches that are particularly concerning are the ones that come on suddenly, last for an extended period of time or cause changes in vision and/or speech as these can be symptoms of a stroke or blood clot. You should seek immediate medical assistance if you experience a headache with any of these symptoms.
The bottom line is, you know your body best and as you are recovering and learning what pain is normal for you, it is important to keep in touch with your medical professional about any sudden or unexplained symptoms you experience. If you cannot get in contact with your doctor or are concerned, chest pains, shortness of breath and headaches are three symptoms you should never ignore when it comes to your health.
Share your story. Do you agree that these are three symptoms you should never ignore? How are you listening to your body?
There is hope for healing and you are not alone,