Blood Clots – The Silent Killer

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This is a guest post by Sara Wyen, a RRCA Certified Running Coach who blogs at Words to Run By.  She has finished numerous half marathons and a marathon since she began running in 2009. After surviving a pulmonary embolism in her left lung in 2012, Sara is on the road to recovery and seeks to educate others about the signs, symptoms and dangers of blood clots.

Blood clots, including those of the leg (deep vein thrombosis) and those of the lung (pulmonary embolism), affect 2 million Americans each year. They cause more deaths than breast cancer, AIDS, and motor vehicle accidents, yet they are virtually unheard of. The signs and symptoms are often elusive, but the reality is that blood clots kill 300,000 Americans each year and many of these deaths may be preventable.

I didn’t know anything about blood clots until I suffered from of one in my left calf (DVT) that broke free, travelled through my heart and lodged in my left lung (PE). DVT most often occurs in the lower limbs, such as the calf or the thigh, but can occur in any deep vein of the body. Symptoms include pain, tenderness, and swelling, discoloration of the affected area or skin that is warm to the touch. But in about half of all cases, deep vein thrombosis occurs without any noticeable symptoms. Here’s a great infographic that shares some revealing statistics about DVT:

A DVT that breaks free into the bloodstream and lodges into the heart is called pulmonary embolism (PE), and this condition is life-threatening.  Symptoms of a PE include unexplained sudden onset shortness of breath, chest pain or discomfort that worsens when you take a deep breath or cough, feeling light-headed or dizzy, fainting, or coughing up blood or pink phlegm. Seek emergency medical care immediately if you think you are experiencing a PE.

Blood clots don’t discriminate. You’re at risk for a DVT (and potentially a pulmonary embolism) if you:

  • are runner with an inefficient vascular system
  • have to sit for long periods of time, such as when driving or flying
  • have an inherited a blood-clotting disorder
  • are a female (pregnant woman are at 5x the risk)
  • have inflammatory bowel disease
  • have heart disease
  • take birth control or hormone replacement therapy
  • have a pacemaker or catheter
  • have had a DVT or PE previously
  • have a family history of DVT or PE
  • are over 60 years old
  • are tall

One-half of clot patients will have long-term complications and one-third will have a recurrence within 10 years. Among people who have had a DVT, one-half will have long-term complications (post-thrombotic syndrome) such as swelling, pain, discoloration, scaling and ulcers in the affected limb according to the Centers for Disease Control in the United States.

It’s critical for runners to know the risks, spot the warning signs and seek prompt medical attention for this silent killer.

Infographic Source: Horizon Vascular Specialists ( – Used with permission.

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