A Massachusetts General Hospital expert offers advice about how to prevent, recognize and seek care for blood clots.

Every 6 minutes one American dies of a blood clot. “That’s 274 Americans every day,” says Lynn Oertel, NP, nursing practice specialist with the MGH Anticoagulation Management Service (AMS). As one of the oldest and largest nurse anticoagulation clinics in the United States, the MGH AMS educates and monitors patients who take blood-thinning medications, which are typically used to treat or prevent blood clots. In an interview, Ms. Oertel details why people of all backgrounds should know the signs and symptoms of a blood clot.

Lynn Oertel, NP
Lynn Oertel, NP

Why be aware of blood clots?

Blood clots can affect anyone. There are a wide variety of risk factors – some are well-recognized, while others may be lesser-known to most people. These factors include family history, sitting for long periods of time, obesity, smoking, taking birth control, hormone replacement therapies with estrogen, having cancer, trauma to a blood vessel and hospitalization. Some of these risk factors can be controlled or minimized, however, others cannot – like family history or needing to have surgery. Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk for blood clots.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Typically, if a blood clot is in the leg, a person may experience pain, swelling or tenderness. The area may feel warm to the touch and may be red in color. When a blood clot is in the lung, a person may have difficulty breathing, shortness of breath or chest pain and may cough up blood.

What should you do if you think you have a blood clot?

This is an emergency and it is very important to seek medical help immediately. It could save your life. Do not wait and think you will feel better in a few days.

It’s important to know your risks and try to lower them. Recognize the signs and symptoms of blood clots and act right away.

What are some ways to prevent blood clots?

It’s important to know your risks and try to lower them. Recognize the signs and symptoms of blood clots and act right away. Follow a healthy lifestyle, stay active and seek and follow treatment for other medical problems you might have.

Can you live a full and healthy life after a blood clot?

Of course. Be sure to follow the advice of healthcare professionals.

What is a good resource for information?

The National Blood Clot Alliance is dedicated to advancing the prevention and prompt treatment of blood clots.

This article first appeared in MGH Hotline.