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.

Hope for Healing After Blood Clots

I have talked about hope for healing since I first started writing this blog, Blood Clot Recovery Network. I also talk a lot about not being alone during recovery from blood clots. It seems that these thoughts have always been a part of this space, but honestly, I didn’t have hope that I would heal when I started this blog, and I was entirely alone. Not many people were talking about blood clot recovery and if they were, I hadn’t found them yet. Still, I couldn’t get these words out of my head, and they became a founding focus of the work that I do here. I said them all the time – out loud and in my writing – perhaps believing that if I said them enough times, they would in fact become truth.

Throughout my personal recovery, I often heard, “You’re so positive,” and “You’re handling this so well.” In reality, my world was falling apart. My job, my relationships, my health, and my self-esteem where all in jeopardy, and there was not a whole lot that I could do about it. It was all out of my control. I don’t routinely consider myself positive – because I am not happy and outgoing all of the time – but most people would consider me an optimist. What I realized after I healed from my blood clots was that even though I wasn’t happy – and I certainly wasn’t optimistic – I was always hopeful for what the future held. I never stopped believing that better days were coming. I realized that I didn’t have to be happy to be positive. In fact, I was downright distraught over my situation. Having hope, though, even when I was hurting inside, was a positive way to handle a difficult situation. Looking back, I have handled most difficult situations in my life by remaining hopeful for a better future.

From where I am today, the words “there is hope for healing” make more sense than ever before. Without my blood clot experience, I would not be where I am today. Now, I am not sorry that my blood clot happened to me, but it has taken me years to understand that, and it wasn’t an easy conclusion to come to. After all, it’s incredibly difficult to be grateful for something that almost ended my life and caused many years of hardship and heartache.

Despite all the pain I went through, I still choose gratitude for my situation.

Without my blood clot, I would not have had the chance to share my story, and with it, to share life-saving information about blood clots. I would not have the opportunity to meet all of you. Without my blood clot, I would not be able to pursue my passions as a writer and as a communications professional. I would not have the career I do, or the opportunity to give back to the community that has helped me heal. Ultimately, without my blood clot, I would not be able to share hope for healing with the people, who find themselves as alone as I felt when I was recovering from blood clots. I am grateful for what happened to me, because of where I am today, and because I can work each day to make a difference in the lives of other people who are suffering and hurting.

Gratitude, though, didn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t make everything effortless, either. I still struggle to this day from time to time. I wish I didn’t have to deal with the long-term consequences of a serious health condition. I still have anxieties and fears that will always be present to some degree. What if my blood thinner doesn’t work? What if I have another blood clot? What if a bigger, scarier health crisis happens to me that I am unprepared for? Those thoughts are still present in my mind from time to time, but I have hope that I can handle whatever comes my way, because I have already handled this.

Gratitude for my experiences took years to happen, and it was very much a part of my healing process. In the beginning, I hated what happened to me. I was angry. I thought the pain would never, ever end. I wondered “why?” for years, before something finally shifted in my mind.

That shift was towards hope. I began thinking about what was ahead, not behind, for me. I began to hope that there was something out there for me. I began to hope that the pain and suffering I was experiencing was not my final destination. I stopped asking “why,”and I started hoping for a different outcome. In time, why didn’t matter so much anymore. How began to matter more. How was I going to feel better? How was I going to deal with it if I didn’t feel better? And ultimately, how was I going to take what I went through and make a difference?

I didn’t know how, nor did I have an answer to any of my questions, but I started to have hope that I would find the answers, or perhaps that the answers would find me.

To my complete amazement, things started to turn around, for the better. I didn’t believe it at first (it was too good to be true). As I built this space and this blog, I started to realize that I was not alone. I received countless messages from people who said they were going through the exact same things that I was. People began sharing their pain, and their heartaches with me. People also shared their successes and progress with me. People started telling me that they hoped because I had hope. They said because of me and my experiences, they didn’t give up.

I began to see how, and then one day I understood why.

It became immediately clear to me why I went through what I did: I was meant to make a difference in the lives of people who were suffering with blood clots as I had. The more I gave, the more I received in return. The cycle of hope and healing has unveiled some unbelievable outcomes for not only myself, but for many of you as well. I know because you tell me each and every day how something I have written, something you read in the BCRN Facebook Group, or on the BCRN Facebook Page, has made a difference for you. Time and time again, you have told me that the stories of hope and healing have cleared the path for these same gifts in your own lives.

Hope and healing from blood clots can be yours, and you do not have to suffer in silence, and alone. Honor where you have come from, and what you have been through, because you have been through a lot. Your body may be broken, but it is strong. Your mind may be devastated, but it is resilient. Be kind to yourself. Love yourself. Love your body because you’re still here, and it’s still healing. Healing is a process, it takes time, and it must be respected.

Have hope for the future and what will be. Have hope for better days, less pain, clarity, confidence, dreams come true, and yes, have hope for healing. Have hope because you are a valuable individual, who has something to give and get from this world. Hope is a gift that you all have access to right now, in this very moment, simply by changing the course of your thoughts.

If you can’t hope for yourself, I hope for you. I hope for better days ahead. I hope for healing, and I hope that you will be reminded that you are not alone on this journey.

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

 

 


Reader Writes In: How have you found hope for healing after your blood clot? What words of encouragement can you share with others?


A special message for you: That’s Called Hope


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

Focus on Blood Clot Awareness Month

March is Blood Clot Awareness Month, or BCAM, and if you or someone you care about has been affected by blood clots, you might be wondering what you can do to make a difference. Often times raising awareness starts with simply sharing your story with the people that you already know. You can share your story verbally with friends and family, in a written note, or more publicly on your Facebook Page or Instagram account. Social media – and our online connections – make it easier than ever to share important information with people in our communities, and with people all over the world.

If you don’t know where to start with sharing information about blood clots, or if you’ve never shared your story before, I’ve outlined four specific things you can focus on to easily help make a difference during Blood Clot Awareness Month, or anytime you want to raise awareness: Blood clot risk, blood clot signs and symptoms, blood clot recovery, and blood clot prevention.

Blood clot recovery is not often a focus of blood clot awareness, but it’s still a very important thing to discuss. This month, I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts about my personal recovery from a handwritten journal I kept for the first month of my recovery. I’ve never shared these thoughts before, but now I want to share them with you.

I’ll also be sharing some of your personal thoughts about how having a support system like Blood Clot Recovery Network has made a difference during your recovery. If you’re not already, connect with me on my public Facebook, Instagram and Twitter channels to hear my thoughts. Plus, if you’re a member of my private Facebook Community, I’ll be sharing some special things there, that I won’t be sharing anywhere else. If you’re not a member yet, join for free today.     

Are you ready? Let’s get focused on Blood Clot Awareness Month.   

Focus on Blood Clot Risk Factors

Blood clots can happen to anyone, no matter who you are. They affect about 900,000 people a year, and about 100,000 people a year die due to blood clots, in the United States alone. In some cases, people may have been able to prevent blood clots by knowing puts them at risk for one.

I had no idea that I could be at risk for a blood clot, so I didn’t think one could ever happen to me. One of the most important things you can share with the people you know is information about blood clot risks.

Know the major blood clot risk factors.
  • A family or personal history of blood clots
  • Recent major surgery or hospitalization
  • Total knee or hip replacement surgery
  • An inherited or acquired clotting condition
  • You have cancer, or are undergoing treatments for cancer
  • You are immobile for a long time (confined to bed, long-duration plane or car trip)
  • You are pregnant or have recently given birth
  • You use estrogen-based birth control methods or estrogen for the treatment of menopause symptoms

That’s not all. Learn more about blood clot risk factors.

Focus on Blood Clot Signs and Symptoms

Just like knowing your risk for blood clots, it is important to be able to recognize blood clot signs and symptoms. Looking back, what was most striking about my situation is that I had symptoms of a blood clot in my leg (pain) and in my lung (shortness of breath, chest pain) at the same time. I also had these symptoms for several days, and they got worse as time passed, not better. Eventually, I called my primary care physician who recognized my symptoms as blood clots and told me to go to the emergency room immediately. This month, take time to share the symptoms of blood clots with the people that you know.

Know the symptoms of a blood clot in the leg or arm, also known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT.
  • Swelling, often in one limb
  • Pain or tenderness, not caused by an injury (sometimes feels like a cramping, or “charley horse”)
  • Skin that is warm to the touch
  • Changes in your skin color, such as turning white, red, blue or purple
Know the symptoms of a blood clot in the lung, also known as pulmonary embolism or PE.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort, especially if it worsens when you take a deep breath, cough or lie down
  • Feeling light headed or dizzy, or fainting
  • Fast or irregular heart rate, or a rapid pulse
  • Coughing, or coughing up blood
  • Some people experience severe anxiety or feel like “something is really wrong”

When they occur together, DVT and PE are known as venous thromboembolism, or VTE. Blood clots in the lungs can cause death by obstructing blood flow, so if you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, do not delay emergency medical treatment.

Learn more about what blood clots might feel like.

Focus on Blood Clot Recovery

Recovery from blood clots is different for everyone. It can take weeks, months or years to recover fully, and some people live with long-term complications from blood clots, such as post-thrombotic syndrome, chronic shortness of breath, or even debilitating anxiety. If you have experienced a blood clot, it’s important to let people know what you are going through … and it’s also important for you to realize that they might not understand what you are going through.

Throughout my recovery, I had many people – some of them close to me – who did not understand how I felt, or understand why I was still in pain so many months after my PE. Sometimes, it was hard to talk about because it was so personal. How much – or how little – you share about your recovery is entirely up to you. During my recovery, I often found that sharing less was more. I found out pretty quickly that all I could do was share information about my situation, and if the people in my personal life didn’t understand, I moved on to talking with a community of my peers who knew exactly what I was going through.

Sometimes, sharing just a few general things about blood clot recovery can be helpful.
  • It’s different for everyone, and can include physical and emotional healing
  • Recovery can take a long time, but there’s no set time line
  • It’s not like a healing from a cold or a broken bone, it’s more like healing from major trauma
  • Some people require ongoing treatment for blood clots, which may involve taking medication and going to frequent doctor visits
  • Sometimes, people who are recovering may look normal on the outside, but they’re still healing on the inside
  • Blood clots are painful

Read more important things about what recovery from a blood clot can be like.

Focus on Blood Clot Prevention

It is true that not all blood clots can be prevented. About 30 percent of all blood clots that occur do not have a cause, or a known risk factor. However, there are several important things that you can do to prevent blood clots from happening, or from happening again.

The most important things that you can do to prevent blood clots are simple, and sharing them is an important part of blood clot awareness. If I had known or done these things in my situation, it may not have been as bad as it was.

Everyone can take simple steps to help prevent life-threatening blood clots.
  • Know your risk for blood clots. If you know your risk for blood clots or know when you might be in a situation that puts you at risk for blood clots like surgery or pregnancy, you can take additional steps to prevent blood clots. It is true that knowledge is power, or key, even when it comes to preventing blood clots. If you don’t know if you could be at risk, talk to your doctor about your concerns.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of blood clots. If you know the signs and symptoms of blood clots, you can seek help, hopefully before you find yourself in a life-threatening situation.
  • Know when to seek medical attention. If you think you might have a blood clots, seek help from your doctor or the hospital immediately. Don’t wait to see if it gets worse – or better. Get checked out sooner rather than later.

Learn more about how to prevent blood clots.

If you have already had a blood clot, there are some important things you can do to prevent future blood clots.
  • Take your medication as prescribed. The most common cause of blood clot recurrence is not taking your medication. If you’re struggling with your treatment plan, or side effects, talk to your doctor about your treatment options.
  • If you are going to be having surgery or a medical procedure, talk to your doctor about your risks for blood clots, and your risk for bleeding. Doctors have to carefully balance your bleeding and clotting risks. Don’t assume everyone knows your health history if you haven’t told them, and plan ahead if you can.
  • If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, talk to your doctor too. It is possible for women with a history of blood clots, or clotting condition, to have successful pregnancies. Connect with your doctor ahead of time, if you can, to talk about ways to prevent blood clots, such as taking blood thinning medications for the duration of your pregnancy.

Sharing information is the most important thing any of us can do to raise blood clot awareness, and Blood Clot Awareness Month provides the perfect opportunity to do so. If you’re not sure where to start, tell your own story and as you do, make sure to include the focus points above. Together, we can make a difference.

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

 

 


Reader Writes In: What plans do you have to help raise blood clot awareness this month? Share in the comments.


Do you want to do more? Discover your personal plan for raising blood clot awareness.


March is Blood Clot Awareness Month and the BCRN bracelets are back! Visit my Amazon Influencer Shop to get your gear. #sponsored


 

 

How to Recover After a Blood Clot

Here are my strategies to help promote health and healing after a blood clot.

After my blood clots, I felt like a fish out of water – literally and figuratively. I could not breathe without an oxygen tank, and I also felt like I had no knowledge of what happened to me, or knowledge of what to expect during my recovery. I had no idea idea how to recover after a blood clot. Those feelings of inadequacy and frustration are some of the most devastating ones that I have ever experienced. I felt like I had lost all control over my life, and I had no idea how to regain control again.

Recovery from blood clots is different for everyone. It can take weeks, months, or years, and some people struggle with complications that last even longer. My recovery was extensive – it took a couple of years – and I will be on anticoagulants long-term to prevent further blood clots. During my recovery, I often wished I had a plan to help me through it. While no singular plan exists for recovering from a blood clot, because of how varied recovery can be from person to person, there are some simple strategies that I have learned that can help you promote healing and recovery in your life.

How to recover after a blood clot.

Here are my nine strategies to help you move through blood clot recovery to a healthy – and hopeful – outcome:

1. Find a doctor who you can trust. One of the first, and most important things, that you can do during your recovery is to find a doctor who you trust. You should have no doubts that your doctor has your best interest in mind and will help you heal. If you don’t have a doctor who you consider a good partner in your care, find a new doctor. It is okay to get a second – or even a third – medical opinion about your health situation.

2. Follow your treatment plan. The standard treatment for blood clots are prescription medications known as anticoagulants, or blood thinners. While these medications don’t actually thin the blood, or dissolve blood clots, they do help to prevent new blood clots from forming, or old blood clots from breaking apart and traveling through the blood stream, which can lead to a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. The most common reason for a repeat blood clot is not following a treatment plan. Take your medication as prescribed and follow your doctor’s instructions. If you have questions, ask. Remember, you should feel comfortable communicating with your doctor at all times.

3. Understand your situation. Blood clot diagnosis, treatment, and recovery can be overwhelming – especially if you don’t know anything about blood clots. Take some time to learn about your situation, whether it be basic information about blood clots, clotting disorders, or even ways to prevent blood clots. Seek out information in books and online, but make certain that they are reputable sources, such as patient advocacy organizations, medical journals and academic publications.

4. Listen to your body. It can be difficult to know what’s normal and what’s not normal during recovery from a blood clot. Always listen to your body and what it might be trying to tell you. If you have new or worsening chest pain, shortness of breath, or headaches, always get in touch with your doctor right away. If you don’t know if what you are experiencing is normal or not, ask your healthcare team to help guide you.

5. Make overall healthy living a priority. Recovery from a blood clot can feel like pure “survival mode,” especially in the beginning, but don’t forget to take care of all aspects of your physical and emotional health. Try to eat healthy, drink plenty of water, move around when you can, sleep, relax, rest, and do a few things that you enjoy, even if they are small activities. If you’re getting ready to start a new eating or exercise plan, be sure to touch base with your doctor before you do.

6. Recognize there may be obstacles. It is often said that healing is not linear, or does not go in a straight line, and that’s true for healing from blood clots too. You will have days when you feel better, and then perhaps worse again. It’s important to understand that your recovery may have ups and downs, but if the hardships start to outweigh your progress, make sure you talk to your healthcare team about it.

7. Connect with your peers. It’s not uncommon for the people closest to you – your family and friends – to be equally confused and overwhelmed by your recovery. In fact, they may not understand what you are going through, and they may not understand that healing can be a lengthy process. It’s important to connect with people who do understand, and who share your experiences. You can find peer support groups online, on Facebook, and sometimes even in person. When searching for support groups, make certain that they are dependable, trustworthy, and expertly moderated.

8. Get professional help if you’re struggling emotionally. Recovery from blood clots is not just physical. It’s not uncommon for people to feel anxious, depressed, isolated, overwhelmed, angry, sad or stressed after a blood clot. Some people experience even more powerful circumstances, like grief and post-traumatic stress disorder. If you’re struggling psychologically after a blood clot, reach out to a professional counselor or psychologist.

9. Always remain hopeful. No matter how overwhelming recovery from a blood clot is, it’s important to remember that recovery is possible. Never give up, and never stop hoping that there will be better days ahead. Celebrate the small improvements and acknowledge the setbacks. In the end, you will emerge, perhaps even with new inspiration for experiencing the things that matter most to you.

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to recover, and your experience may be entirely different from the next person’s experience. It can be a long journey – and there may be some frustrating setbacks – but recovery is possible. Ultimately, most people do recover from blood clots, and they do go on to lead normal lives, even if they have to take long-term anticoagulants to help prevent future blood clots.

Recovery resources to get you started.

Find A Doctor Tool (United States)
World Thrombosis Day (International resources)
More About Blood Clot Treatment
The National Blood Clot Alliance
The American Society of Hematology
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
BCRN’s Online Facebook Support Group
The National Blood Clot Alliance’s Online Support Group (not on Facebook)
How to Get Mental Health Help

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

 

 


Reader Writes In: What is the scariest part of blood clot recovery for you? What have you learned during recovery that can help other people? Share in the comments below.


Recovery can take a long time and varies for each individual. Read more about what to expect and connect with others who are also recovering.


Visit my Amazon Influencer Shop to get the products I use to stay healthy and happy every day.


Blog stock photos courtesy of unsplash.

Sharing My Patient Journey

When I was first asked to share my patient journey at the Diabetes Sisters Weekend for Women in Alexandria, Virginia I thought one thing: Why me? After all, I talk about my personal recovery from blood clots, and I don’t have diabetes. Excited as I was to explore the possibility, I returned the call to decline and said, “I think you have me confused with someone else. I don’t have diabetes.”

“No, we don’t,” was the answer I received, “We want you to speak because you do not have diabetes. We want to share a different perspective on the patient journey.” Excited by the possibility to speak to a different audience than the ones I am used to, I dove into preparing my presentation to talk about my personal journey from being a patient to being a patient advocate. I’ll be the first to admit, attending an event specific to a disease separate from the one I have was intimidating at first.

Before I went, I learned what I could about DiabetesSisters, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the health and quality of life of women with diabetes, and advocate on their behalf. What I soon realized is, this resource – including the support and educational conference I would be attending – is the type of resource that the VTE community doesn’t have right now. We’re getting there, but we still have some progress to make.

Part of the support that DiabetesSisters offers is regular meetings, or in-person opportunities, to share information, experience, and support with people who have been there too. The Weekend for Women even offered support for partners of women with diabetes (Partner’s Perspective Program) and the Diabetes UnConference, which was exclusively to discuss deeply personal and sensitive issues such as the fear of the unknown when managing a lifelong illness. I soon realized how incredibly fortunate the people attending these sessions are to have this measure of support in their lives, and I immediately wanted to be a part of it.

At the conference, I shared my personal thoughts about how to navigate the path from patient to patient advocate through storytelling, and I shared my thoughts about how telling our stories can in fact lead to healing and empowerment. I also took some time to share important facts about blood clots, including risk factors, and signs and symptoms. I had several women come up to me after my talk to either share their personal blood clot story, or the story of a family member. I also had a few people tell me they had no idea they could be at risk for a blood clot, and about how they planned to discuss their risk with their doctors upon their return home.

I was invited to sit in on the workshops, in which I observed some thought-provoking discussions about how to support a spouse or loved on who has diabetes, and how to handle our worst fears when facing a chronic or long-term illness, like the fear of being incapacitated and left alone, or even the fear of death. I realized these are all thoughts I have had throughout my recovery from blood clots, and I still have some of them today. The fear of the unknown is a great obstacle for many of us, and it was encouraging to hear other people talking about it, face-to-face.

By now, you might be thinking, “Great, but I’m not diabetic, I have a blood clot, so why are you sharing this information with me? The answer is: Whether you have diabetes, have a blood clot, or have a clotting condition, we all share the same journey as a patient. We all must live day to day with an illness that might never go away. We have the same fears, the same struggles, and the same concerns. A person with diabetes might have to consider what he or she eats, and check his or her blood sugar. I have to consider what I eat and check my INR because I take warfarin. We both have to remember to take pills, go to regular follow-up appointments, be proactive in our health, and sometimes, we even have to miss out on things because our illness might take precedence over what we want to do.

What these people taught me is, no matter what the condition is, we all face the same fears, struggles, setbacks, triumphs and joys as a patient, and as a person. They taught me what I was supposed to be sharing with them: Sometimes it is easy to become fully consumed by our own disease and our own situation, but in fact, there are people all around us who can relate to what we have gone through, or what we are going through. As a blogger, and as a patient advocate for the VTE community, I become very consumed with that, because it is my passion, but it’s important to remember that I truly am not alone, even when I look outside of this community.

Below are some some resources that I want you to have. If you have diabetes, or if you want to begin your journey from patient to patient advocate, explore the links below for some essential tools.

Extra Diabetes Resources for You:

Did you know? Long-term diseases like diabetes are a risk factor for life-threatening blood clots. If you have diabetes, I would love to connect you with some of the resources and bloggers from the DiabetesSisters Weekend for Women.

DiabetesSisters
Blood Sugar Trampoline
Below Seven
Diabetes Mine
Yoga for Diabetes

Patient Advocacy Resources for You:

Did you know? Anyone can become a patient advocate just by sharing their story. Below are some resources to help you get started.

Charting Your Own Patient Journey (my slideshow from the conference)
How to Raise Blood Clot Awareness: Discover Your Personal Plan
Sharing Success as an Online Health Blogger
From Make-A-Wish Employee to Making One of My Own Wishes Come True

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

 

 


Reader Writes In: Are you dealing with other health conditions besides blood clots? Where are you on your own patient journey? Where would you like your journey to take you?


Are you new here? Welcome to BCRN. Here is my story and more about me.


Are you worried that you might have a blood clot? Here is how to talk to your doctor.


Connect with BCRN on Facebook and in our private Group.

When should I call my doctor?

After my blood clot, I felt like I could no longer trust my body anymore. After all, I was taking care of it – exercising, eating well and losing some extra weight – when a blood clot from my leg went to my lung and almost ended my life at just 29 years old. I was healthier than I had been in a couple of years, I was happy, and I had no other out-of-control health problems. The very last thing I expected was a blood clot, in fact, I didn’t expect one at all. If I couldn’t trust my body when it was healthy, how could I possibly trust it when I was sick, on blood thinners, and recovering from a mind-blowing event that nearly killed me? I couldn’t. That was almost as scary as surviving something that kills one in three people that it effects. Not only could I not trust my body, I also wondered if I could trust my head: How would I know if I should call my doctor during my long and difficult recovery?

In the initial days after my discharge from the hospital, I was at my hematologist’s office once or twice a week to have my INR checked. I had an appointment with my doctor every month to discuss my treatment and my recovery, and I had a lot of appointments with a variety of other specialists to fill the rest of my very miserable time with. I am very fortunate that my hematologist – and my main point of contact for my care – is very understanding and supportive and assured me early on that no question was dumb, no phone call was a waste of anyone’s time, and he absolutely expected to hear from me a lot as I went through the stages of healing. So, I figured, what did I have to lose? I called him a lot – for everything in the beginning. If I had any pain, unusual feeling, or question, I just called him. I treated it as a non-negotiable part of my treatment plan: Take your medication, go to your appointments, and call your doctor.

He always answered me in some way. Sometimes, his answer was, “That’s normal, you can expect that,” or it was “Why don’t you make an appointment to come see me?” or, one time it was, “You need to go to the emergency room right now.” That time I thought I had another PE, and thankfully, I didn’t. I did have pleurisy, or inflammation of the lining of my lung, which was nearly as painful and required admission to be treated.

As time went on, I started to learn how my doctor would answer me, and I started to learn how my body felt after a blood clot. I started to learn what was “normal” for me, what was unusual for me, and what was downright frightening for me, or sent me into panic mode. Eventually, I noticed I was calling my doctor a little less than once or twice a week, as I learned to manage my health with my own knowledge and experiences. I went from calling my doctor a couple of times a week, to calling him a couple of times a year. I now know when I need to seek help right away, make an appointment, or when I can handle a situation at home, by myself.

One of the questions I hear frequently is, “How do I know when I should call my doctor?” The answer is simple: If you have to ask, call your doctor. That being said, calling a doctor is not easy for everyone – and not everyone has a supportive doctor. If that’s how you feel, there are some things you can do to help you decide if you should call your doctor.

Listen to your body.

You may not trust your body – or you might be really angry with it after everything you have been through – but trust me, your body is smart. Listen to it. Your body is very good at letting you know, most of the time, when something is wrong. If you feel pain or have symptoms that are unusual for you, your body might be trying to tell you that something is wrong.

Work with your doctor, or healthcare professional.

Your doctor is your best resource for understanding your symptoms and what they may mean. Your doctor works for you – and you should not worry about bothering him or her. If you don’t have a doctor who you feel is a partner in your care, take steps to find a doctor who is. You, and you alone, are in charge of your body and your recovery. Talk to your doctor about a plan to manage your health. Can you call him or her? Can you send an email? Should you proceed right to the emergency room for certain things? What symptoms should you watch out for? What symptoms might be normal for you? Work with your doctor to develop a plan of action – no matter how simple – for handling your health questions. My plan was as simple as this: Call my hematologist with any questions I have.

Trust your past experiences.

This ties together listening to your body and working with your healthcare provider. Once you do these things, you will start to learn what is and what is not normal for you during your recovery. For example, let’s say you have a pain in your leg that feels exactly like your DVT, so you call your doctor, and he or she advices you to seek medical attention right away. You automatically know what to do if and when it happens again. If you have pain in your leg that hurts a lot, but goes away with rest and elevation – when your DVT pain did not – you start to learn what that pain means for your body. Maybe it means you walked too much, or worked out too hard at the gym. Simple thoughts like, “This pain is different,” or “I have never hurt this bad before,” are clues that something could be very wrong, and you should call your doctor for guidance. Thoughts like, “This feels familiar, I need to take it easy this afternoon,” or “I have felt this tired when I don’t get enough rest at night” might be clues that a particular feeling is normal for you. If you can’t remember, or if it seems overwhelming to understand your experiences, keep a journal or log book with simple entries about what you feel, when you feel it, for how long, and what the resolution is.

Some Important Things to Watch Out For  

There are some signs and symptoms that you should be aware of – especially once you have had a blood clot – and you should always call your doctor if you question how you are feeling.

A blood clot in the leg or arm (or other parts of the body) is called deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, and is dangerous because it can break apart and travel through the blood stream, leading to life-threatening problems, like a blood clot in the lung. If you experience signs or symptoms of a DVT, call your doctor or seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Signs and symptoms of a blood clot in the leg or arm (deep vein thrombosis or DVT):
  • Swelling in the affected leg, including swelling in your ankle and foot, or swelling in your arm
  • Pain in your leg, ankle, foot, or arm. The pain in your leg can feel like severe cramping, or a charley horse, and often won’t go away with your regular methods of pain relief
  • Warmth and/or tenderness over the affected area
  • Changes in your skin’s natural color (red, blue, white, or purple)

A blood clot that breaks off from the leg or arm and travels to through the bloodstream to the lung is called pulmonary embolism, or PE. A PE is life-threatening because it can block blood flow and oxygen to the lung(s). If you experience signs or symptoms of a PE, go to the emergency room, or call 911, immediately.

Signs and symptoms of a blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism or PE):
  • Unexplained sudden onset of shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort that worsens when you take a deep breath, cough, or even lie down
  • Feeling lightheadedness or dizzy
  • Rapid pulse
  • Sweating
  • Coughing, or coughing up blood
  • A sense of anxiety, nervousness or impending doom

If you are taking blood thinners, you might also worry about unwanted or dangerous bleeding. If you have any questions about bleeding, you should call your doctor right away.

Signs and symptoms of dangerous or internal bleeding can vary greatly depending on where in the body bleeding may occur. If you experience these symptoms – or any other symptoms that cause you concern – call 911 or seek medical attention right away.

Signs and symptoms of bleeding
  • Abdominal pain and/or swelling
  • Light-headedness, dizziness, or fainting (can result from any source of internal bleeding once enough blood is lost)
  • A large area of deeply purple skin, or bruising, especially around the chest or abdomen areas
  • Swelling, tightness, and pain in the leg or arm after an injury
  • Headache and/or loss of consciousness
  • Blood in urine or stool (black or tarry stool)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Nosebleeds, cuts, scrapes, etc. that do not stop bleeding after applying direct pressure for 10-15 minutes
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Unexplained bleeding from another body cavity, including ears, nose, mouth, or anus
  • More symptoms of internal bleeding
Even though it can be difficult to learn about your body after a blood clot, there are some things that you should never ignore. In the event of a head injury – such as a bump, bruise, cut, etc. – always consult with your doctor as soon as possible for further instruction, or seek immediate medical attention. If you have shortness of breath, chest pain, or the worst headache of your life, always seek immediate medical attention because these might be symptoms of something serious. 

Managing your health after a blood clot is not easy, and there are many things to think about, consider and worry about. In time – as you learn from your experiences and your healthcare provider – it does get easier and eventually, I hope you will find that you know your body very well. While it may take some time to get there, you too can manage your health after a blood clot. In the meantime, if you wonder, always make the call. Your health – and perhaps ultimately your life – are always worth making the call.

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

 

 


Reader Writes In: How do you decide when to call your doctor? Is your doctor a partner in your care? Why or why not? How do you manage your health after a blood clot?


There are three symptoms you should never ignore. Find out what they are.


Are you worried that you might have a blood clot? Here is how to talk to your doctor.


Connect with BCRN on Facebook and in our private Group.