The silent health risk of COVID-19: Five facts to know about blood clots

(BPT) - COVID-19 is associated with many complications, but one that many people are not as aware of are blood clots. According to a recent study, between 25% to 49% of patients with severe COVID-19 also experience blood clots with blood clots in the lungs being the most common condition. These blood clots can be limb- and life-threatening.

Jeremy Sipe, a 52-year-old avid runner, knew something was wrong when he was experiencing shortness of breath after a few steps on the treadmill. He tried again later in the day and the same thing happened — he was out of breath after just a couple of seconds. He called his doctor immediately and ended up in the hospital diagnosed with a blood clot in his lung, also known as a pulmonary embolism.

“Jeremy’s clot could have been life threatening,” said Dr. George Chrysant, interventional cardiologist at INTEGRIS Baptist in Oklahoma City, OK. “It is important to recognize the signs of blood clots, especially pulmonary embolisms, because when they are diagnosed and treated quickly, complications decrease dramatically.”

Blood clots are often overlooked and misunderstood. The following are a few things to know about blood clots.

Risk factors for blood clots

Blood clots can affect anyone at any age, but there are factors that can increase risk, like surgery, hospitalization, pregnancy, cancer, and family history. Studies have shown an increased chance of suffering a blood clot during the COVID-19 pandemic, both among those who have the virus and those with more sedentary lifestyles due to shutdowns and working from home.

Symptoms of blood clots

A blood clot in your arm or leg can cause swelling and pain. It may be tender, red, or warm to the touch. A blood clot in the lung can cause difficulty breathing, an irregular heartbeat, chest pain and coughing up blood, according to the American Lung Association.

Technology for blood clots

Dr. Chrysant removed Jeremy’s blood clot with a medical technology from Penumbra, Inc. called the Indigo System Lightning 12. It works like a minimally invasive “vacuum” inside a blocked artery or vein to remove a blood clot.

“In the past, we would have been limited to clot-dissolving medications, which can be problematic because they sometimes require long stays in the intensive care unit and have a high risk of causing bleeding elsewhere in the body,” Dr. Chrysant said.

Five facts to know about blood clots

Doctors say it’s important to know the facts and seek treatment right away if you suspect a blood clot. Here are a few things to remember:

  1. Blood clots can affect anyone. Still, there are risk factors that include smoking, obesity, pregnancy, being sedentary, and birth control and hormone therapy. Certain diseases and conditions, such as cancer, also increase risk.
  2. Genetics play a role. If you have family members who have a history of blood clots, or you have a personal history of repeated blood clots, you could be more at risk.
  3. Doctors have tools to diagnose a blood clot, but there is no routine screening. Your doctor will gather information about your medical history, age, medications, and lifestyle factors. Diagnostic tests are usually only performed if a clot is suspected.
  4. There have been recent advancements in the treatment of blood clots. With new technology, doctors have more treatment options to help patients.
  5. You can help prevent blood clots. Be aware of risk factors, recognize the signs and symptoms and see your doctor right away if you suspect a blood clot. And remember, when you’ve been sitting for a long time, stand up and walk around or stretch your legs every couple of hours.

“I’m fortunate that I saw my doctor right away and had this blood clot taken care of that same day,” said Sipe. “I felt a difference immediately after the procedure and I even went to the gym that evening. It’s important to know when to see a doctor, especially when things don’t seem right.”

For more information about Penumbra, visit www.penumbrainc.com/patients-caregivers/.