Preventing Blood Clots While You're in the Hospital

This information explains what a blood clot is and how you can prevent them during your hospital stay.

About Blood Clots

Normal blood clots form in blood vessels when a clump of platelets (a type of blood cell) come together to stop bleeding when you have a cut or an injury. When the cut or injury heals, your body will get rid of the blood clot. Blood clots can form anywhere in your body.

Blood clots can also form in healthy blood vessels when they aren’t needed. This is called an abnormal (not normal) blood clot. Abnormal blood clots can lead to serious health problems such as deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

DVT can happen when an abnormal blood clot forms in a vein deep inside the body, usually in your arm or leg. The clot may affect your normal blood flow and cause swelling, redness, and pain in the area. If the clot isn’t treated, new blood clots may form, and it could break apart and spread to other parts of the body. These can make the swelling and pain worse and lead to trouble walking, an infection, or skin ulcers (sores).

Pulmonary embolism (PE)

PE can happen when an abnormal blood clot blocks the flow of blood in a blood vessel in your lung. Most of the time, this happens when a blood clot in a deep vein of your leg breaks loose and travels to your lung. Having PE can keep your body from getting enough oxygen. If you have PE, you may have:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • A fast heartbeat
  • Pale or blue-colored skin

PE can cause death if the signs aren’t treated quickly.

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Blood Clot Risk Factors

Some things can increase your risk of forming a blood clot. The risk factors include:

  • Not moving around often. This is because blood will flow slower in your deeps veins when you’re not moving, which can lead to a clot.
  • Having recently had surgery. This is because some surgeries may cause your blood to become thicker, or it may pool if you’re having a long surgery and not moving much.
  • Being injured
  • Having cancer

While you’re in the hospital, you may have more than 1 of these risk factors at the same time.

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Preventing Blood Clots in the Hospital

There are many things you can do to prevent blood clots from forming while you’re in the hospital. The following are ways to prevent blood clots.

Sequential compression device (SCD) sleeves

SCDs are sleeves that wrap around your lower legs. The sleeves are connected by tubes to a machine that pushes air in and out of the sleeves to gently squeeze your legs. This is a safe and effective way to help your blood circulate (move around) to prevent clots.

You should always wear the SCD sleeves when you’re in bed. Make sure you remove the SCD sleeves before getting out of bed because the tubing could make you trip and fall. Tell your healthcare provider if you notice the tubing is pinched or the pump is beeping.

Walking

Walk around if you’re able to, as instructed by your doctor. For most people, this means as much as you feel comfortable with. Walking around the hospital every 1 to 2 hours during the day is a great way to reduce the risk of a blood clot while you’re in the hospital.

Medication

If your healthcare provider prescribed you anticoagulation medication (blood thinners), be sure to take your medication as instructed. This medication will reduce the chance of a blood clot forming.

Call your doctor or nurse if you have

  • Pain or discomfort in your legs or chest
  • New swelling in your arms or legs
  • Skin changes in your arms or legs, such as skin that’s redder than usual, or skin that feels warm to the touch
  • Trouble breathing
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
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