Preventing Blood Clots While You Are in the Hospital

This information explains what a blood clot is and how you can keep one from forming during your hospital stay.

About Blood Clots

A normal blood clot is like a Band-Aid® for your blood vessels. Its main job is to stop bleeding that happens when you get a cut or an injury. However, blood clots can also form in healthy blood vessels when they are not needed. This is considered to be abnormal and can lead to serious health problems such as deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.

Abnormal blood clots happen most often in people who do not move around, or who have had surgery or an injury. Having cancer also increases your risk of developing a blood clot. While you are in the hospital, you may have more than one of these risk factors at the same time.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

DVT can happen when an abnormal blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in your arm or leg. The clot may interfere with normal blood flow and cause swelling, redness, and pain in the area. If the clot is not treated, new blood clots may form. These could make the swelling and pain worse and lead to difficulty walking, infection, or skin ulcers (sores).

Pulmonary embolism (PE)

PE can happen when an abnormal blood clot blocks the blood flow in a blood vessel of your lung. Most of the time, PE 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. You may have shortness of breath, chest pain, or severe breathing problems. PE can cause death if symptoms are not treated quickly.

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Preventing Blood Clots in the Hospital

While you are in the hospital, wear compression stockings and sequential compression device (SCD) sleeves as instructed by your healthcare team. SCDs are sleeves worn on your lower legs that inflate and deflate to help your blood circulate (move around). Please tell your nurse or patient care technician if you notice the tubing is pinched or the pump is beeping.

Walk as recommended by your doctor. For most people, this means as much as you feel comfortable with. Walking for 10 to 15 minutes several times every day is the safest way to reduce the risk of a blood clot while you are in the hospital.

Take anticoagulation medications (blood thinners) as prescribed by your healthcare provider. They 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
  • Change in the color or temperature of the skin on your legs
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
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