Blood Clots After Surgery

Surgery is one of the major causes of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that forms in the deep veins of your body, often in your leg.

Clots happen when blood thickens and sticks together. That can be a good thing when it prevents you from bleeding, but not so much when a clot forms inside your blood vessels. Sometimes, one can travel to your lungs. This is called a pulmonary embolism (PE), and it can be life-threatening if it blocks blood flow.

While a clot can form after any type of procedure, you're more likely to get one if you've had major surgery, particularly on your abdomen, pelvis, hips, or legs.

Why It Happens

DVT is common after an operation because you're usually staying in bed for long periods of time while you recover. When you stop moving, blood flows more slowly in your deep veins, which can lead to a clot.

You're most likely to get a clot between 2 and 10 days after your surgery, but your odds are higher for about 3 months.

You may have a greater chance of DVT after surgery when you:

During Surgery

Sometimes, the surgery itself can cause a blood clot. Long procedures where you're lying on the operating table for many hours allow your blood to settle and pool, which makes it easier to clot.

Tissue, debris, fat, or collagen could get released into your blood system during an operation, making blood thicker around those particles. Blood clots can also form if your veins are damaged during an operation.

Surgeries that involve scraping or cutting into a bone, such as a hip replacement, may release substances known as antigens. These antigens trigger your body's immune system and can lead to clots.

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Symptoms to Watch For

Only about half of people who get DVT have symptoms.

Let your doctor know right away if you have any signs of DVT or PE:

Prevention

Before your surgery, stop smoking. Work on getting rid of any extra pounds you're carrying. Talk to your doctor if you need help.

After your surgery, you'll want you to keep your blood moving. Your doctor may prescribe blood thinner medicines, which are also called anticoagulants. They make it harder for your blood to stick together and form clots.

Simple movements, such as leg lifts while you're in bed, can improve blood flow. You might need to take pain medicine so you can exercise comfortably.

Elastic compression stockings or a compression device can help stop blood from pooling in your veins.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on July 05, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: "Pulmonary Embolism: Symptoms and Causes."

OrthoInfo: "Deep Vein Thrombosis."

UCSF, Department of Surgery: "Deep Vein Thrombosis."

CDC: "Venous Thromboembolism (Blood Clots): Facts."

American Society of Hematology: "Blood Clots."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Who is at Risk for Deep Vein Thrombosis?" "What Causes Deep Vein Thrombosis?"

York Teaching Hospital: "Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and Warfarin: A Guide to Your Diagnosis and Treatment Information for Patients, Relatives, and Carers."

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