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Serena Williams Undergoes Treatment for a Pulmonary Embolism

Serena Williams started treatment for a pulmonary embolism last week.  This is a life threatening condition.  What is it and why is it so dangerous?

ANATOMY

Blood flows throughout all of our organs and body.  The blood is pumped through the heart and goes to the rest of the body in vessels known as arteries.  The blood returns from the body to the heart in vessels known as veins.

A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can occur when a blood clot forms in the veins.  This commonly occurs in the veins of the lower leg or thigh.

A pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when a piece of the clot breaks off and blocks the blood supply (pulmonary artery) to the lungs.  If large enough, this can be fatal and lead to death.

CAUSES

A DVT can occur with a family history of blood clots, prolonged immobilization, genetics, oral contraceptive pills, cancer, surgery, prolonged bed rest, trauma, air travel, diabetes, smoking, obesity, or pregnancy.  In all of these conditions, the following issues can occur in the veins: slowing of the blood supply (stasis), damage to the lining of the veins, or increased presence of the substances that cause blood clots (hypercoagulability).   Once a DVT is present, especially when higher than the level of the knee, the clot can break off a piece that can then cause a PE.

SYMPTOMS

Symptoms of a DVT include: pain in the leg, tenderness in the calf, swelling of the leg, redness, warmth, and discomfort.

Symptoms of a PE include: shortness of breath, chest pain, cough with blood tinged sputum, wheezing, excessive sweating, rapid or irregular heartbeats, a weak pulse, or lightheadedness.

TREATMENTS

Treatment for a DVT includes bedrest, elevation of the leg, warm compresses, and blood thinners (taken orally or with injections). At times, a filter can be placed in the veins to minimize the risk of a PE and “catch” the clot.

Treatment for a PE includes: oral or injectable blood thinners, blood clot dissolvers (thrombolytics), or surgery to remove the clot.

WHEN TO SEEK MEDICAL CARE

Pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening. You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience unexplained shortness of breath, chest pain or a cough that produces bloody sputum. A chest x-ray, lung scan, spiral CT scan, pulmonary angiogram, blood tests, MRI, or ultrasound may be used to confirm the diagnosis.

RETURN TO ACTIVITIES/OUTCOMES

During treatment for a PE, while an athlete is on blood thinners, athletic activities can be restarted.  However, due to the blood thinner, the athlete is at risk for developing a collection of blood (hematoma) with mild trauma.

VIDEO/ANIMATION

To watch an animation video of DVTs, go to the following link: http://footdronline.com/education.html.  Then select orthopaedics à knee à  condition à and then deep vein thrombosis.

Based on reports, Williams will likely be out of competition for at least 6 months.

Dr. P

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All material published through this blog/website is for informational and entertainment purposes only. Readers are encouraged to confirm the information contained herein with other sources. Patients and consumers should review the information carefully with their professional health care provider. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by physicians. Dr. Parekh and Duke University will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary, or other damages arising from the discussions in this blog.  For more information on Duke Orthopaedics, go to: http://www.dukehealth.org/orthopaedics.

 

Locations

  • N.C. Orthopaedic Clinic
  • Durham Regional Hospital
  • Davis Ambulatory Surgery Center
  • Duke Hospital North
  • Duke Ambulatory Surgery Center

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