On 17th November 2015, just into my 10th week of pregnancy, I received the shocking news that I had a Pulmonary Embolism (lung clot). After being diagnosed of a genetic blood disorder, Factor V Leiden, years before I was always slightly higher risk so it should have been no surprise. However, I had the attitude that it would never happen to me.
I remember not feeling great on the Sunday. I’d had a cold for over a week and I felt as if it was turning into a chest infection. By the Monday, my chest was tight and I remember going into my classroom, putting my head on the desk and just crying out of frustration. I soldiered on, mentioning to my colleague that I had an “annoying chest cold” and laughing about it.
By Monday night, I was starting to feel a bit of pain in my shoulder blade. I told my husband that I felt like something wasn’t right but then immediately shrugged it off as “muscle pain”. That’s exactly how it felt, like I’d been pulling shapes in my sleep and was suffering a pulled muscle.
By bedtime, alarm bells should have rang. As I laid down, I felt as if I was suffocating. In a panic, I told my husband that I felt like I was going to “stop breathing” and he reassured me I was just worrying myself. Again, I convinced myself I was fine.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, I woke up screaming in pain. Breathing in sent a searing pain through my ribs. Despite being in a lot of pain and crying, I knew my husband was at work in 3 hours so I refused to go to a medical centre. I would see how I was in a few hours. Had I not been forced to go by my husband, things could have turned out a little different.
Am I at Risk?
My issue was that I thought “it’ll never happen to me”. Maybe you’re thinking, ‘She has Factor V Leiden’. Did you know that most people are not found to have Factor V Leiden until after they’ve been diagnosed with a thrombosis? Between 3-8% of Europeans are thought to have the genetic disorder. There are no signs and symptoms.
The NHS list those most at risk of a clot as:
- having a clot previously
- over 35
- having thrombophilia
- pregnant with twins
- has a parent, brother or sister who has had a thrombosis
- a smoker
- being inactive for a long period of time i.e. Long-distance travel
Other than Factor V Leiden, which no healthcare professional was concerned about, I didn’t fall into any of those categories.
How to Reduce Your Risk
Due to my mindset of “it’ll never happen to me”, I was guilty of not taking enough care of myself. It wasn’t that I was ignoring the advice given, it was just that I was careless.
There are many simple ways to reduce your risk:
When you are heavily pregnant, it is so easy to confine yourself to the couch to take the weight off your feet. Your hours rest becomes a full day and you convince yourself that it’s fine because you’re pregnant.
If you can, try to get up every hour and have a walk about. If you can’t then wriggle your toes and move your legs. You could even prop your legs up on a cushion. Compression socks, although not the most flattering, are also fantastic if you know you are going to be immobile for a while.
Take regular stops when travelling
People often think of long-distance flying when thinking of clot prevention but you need to consider it for any long-distance travelling. You should aim to stop for a stretch and walk about every two hours and again, if you can, wear compression socks. Yes, it’s inconvenient but it’s going to be even more inconvenient if you develop a clot.
Uncross your legs!
This is my worst habit. Even during my recovery, I was constantly being told off for not sitting correctly. You should ensure that your legs have free flow of blood. You should not have one leg over the other nor should you be sat on them.
Like the title says, keep hydrated. You should be anyway, you’re pregnant. Carry a bottle of water with you wherever you go and try to drink the recommended limit which is around 1.5 – 2 litres of water per day.
There are other recommendations for preventing clots and I am putting them under one heading. The reason for this is that the above suggestions are very simple to follow, everybody can do it without much effort. The following are much more difficult:
Losing weight if your BMI is more than 30.
I am not going to go into any more detail than this because if you are one of those people, I am sure you have heard it so many times since becoming pregnant as these are causes for much more complications in pregnancy. However, they are still recommendations by Health Professionals so I feel as if they still needed a mention.
Symptoms of clots can vary greatly depending on the size and position of the clot. Pain can vary from mild to severe, but sometimes no obvious symptoms can be seen at all. The below is the NHS’s list of symptoms we should be aware of:
For Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT):
- cramping pain
- warmth in muscles
For a Pulmonary Embolism (PE):
- chest pain
- coughing up blood
As mentioned, you can develop a clot with little to no symptoms. My symptoms didn’t appear until a lot later on so if you feel unwell, always get checked out.
After a Clot
We are almost a year to the date that I was diagnosed and recovery is still ongoing.. The road to recovery was difficult and at times I felt as if I was never going to get there. I would wake up several times through the night in pain and could only sleep upright. When I became more heavily pregnant, this became an absolute nightmare as I fought to find a comfortable position. I had no energy and walking a short distance took it out of me. My fitness might never go back to how it was but that’s a small price to pay when you look at what could have happened, death.
I am also learning how it will affect other areas of my life; life insurance, travel insurance and a reoccurrence of a clot will land me on lifelong anticoagulants. Surprinsingly, I have recently found out that I’m unable to become a stem cell donor which makes me feel pretty useless!
So if like me you are thinking, “It’ll never happen to me” then remember it can and start making changes ????.
– Tee ????
This post is merely sharing my experience of having a clot and is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for medical advice. Please contact a Healthcare Professional if you have concerns!