If you’ve had an episode of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), it may feel scary to go back to work. This is especially true if you have a job that requires you to stand or sit for long hours. You may be worried about the blood clots coming back.
For most people with a DVT, it takes a few weeks or months to recover completely without long-term effects. But in some cases, if you’re recovering from a blood clot in the leg, you may feel swelling and some discomfort. Around 15% of the people with DVT may also develop post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS). It happens when the blood clot in your deep vein that led to DVT damages the vein and makes it weak. This can affect the blood flow from your leg to the heart and lead to PTS symptoms. PTS could happen 6 months after a DVT and last up to 2 years.
If you’re thinking about going back to work, first speak to your doctor to see if you’re physically able to and what changes you may have to make. If you’re not able to, you might have to put your health first and miss work as you recover.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to safely go back to your job when you're ready. Know your rights as an employee, get your documents in order, and discuss options with your boss or co-workers. These things may help make the transition back to work a smoother one.
Sick Leave and Disability
In most DVT cases, blood thinners are enough to stop new clots from forming or traveling while your body gets rids of the existing clot. But severe clots may need more complex treatments or even surgery. In this case, you might need more time off from work.
According to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you may qualify for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a “serious health condition” if you’ve:
- Worked at least 12 months or at least 1,250 hours in the past year
- Work for a company that has 50 or more employees within 75 miles
During this time, your employer has to also pay toward your health insurance.
A DVT may also put you at a higher risk for a pulmonary embolism (PE). That’s when a part of the clot breaks off and lodges in your lung. This can cause shortness of breath or even death. If you have a severe blood clot and it’s risky to continue working, you might qualify for Social Security disability benefits if you can prove your condition will last at least 12 months.
Having a one-off DVT isn’t enough. But one of the condition’s complications, chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) is mentioned as a disabling condition in the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book, which helps doctors decide if you qualify for benefits. Post-thrombotic syndrome is one of the symptoms of CVI.
To successfully claim benefits to cover some of your expenses while you recover, get a doctor’s note listing your medical problems and how they’re affecting your life. Your claim may get rejected the first time. If needed, hire a social security disability attorney to help you through the process.
Getting Back to Work
Once your doctor clears you, going back to work full-time or even part-time may feel scary after you’ve had a DVT. If your job involves sitting at a desk for a long time, or if you work in the travel industry and sit for 4 or more hours at a stretch in a plane, car, bus, truck or train, you may be at a higher risk for blood clots again or PE.
But making a few changes to your work environment can go a long way to avoid another DVT episode:
- First, talk to your boss or co-workers about any changes you may need to make to your work routine.
- Ask if it’s possible for you to have a flexible schedule or if you can work from home for a few days.
- If you’ve been sitting a lot, stand up, stretch, and walk around every hour or two. This will help with blood flow, which can prevent PTS. Do it as safely as you can if you’re still recovering from treatment or surgery.
- If you’re not able leave your seat, stretch your calves. Stretch your legs forward and flex your ankles with the toes pointing toward you.
- Wear compression stockings. This will help ease some of the swelling and pain you might have after a DVT. It also helps with blood flow.
- If you work a desk job, ask your employer if you can have a standing desk. Standing on your feet in the same place all day isn’t the goal, but it’s a good way to not sit for too long.
- Stay hydrated. Drink a lot of water. Avoid too much caffeine, and limit alcohol.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
Most important, keep an eye out for PTS if you’re still recovering or DVT-like symptoms in case you have another blood clot. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible. If your job is still too physically demanding, talk to your boss about making more changes or switching to a more doable job.
Working While on Blood Thinners
Depending on how big your blood clot was, where it was located, and the risk of it coming back or causing a pulmonary embolism, the doctor may put you on blood thinners for at least 3 months.
Blood thinners are lifesaving because they stop clots from forming in your body or from traveling to other parts. This lets your body get rid of the clot over time. The most common but serious side effect is bleeding.
The same medications make it difficult to control and stop light bleeding from cuts or scrapes. If you work in industries like construction or sports, you’re more likely to get surface cuts.
Injuries that might otherwise be annoying can land you in an emergency room when you’re on blood thinners. They may include:
- Nosebleeds that last more than 5 minutes
- Razor cuts that bleed a lot more than normal and last more than 5 minutes
- Scrapes and small cuts like paper cuts that won’t stop bleeding for a long time
But there are things you can do to avoid surface cuts and bleeds at work:
- Take extra care when playing high-risk sports that cause bruises or bleeding.
- Use safety precautions. Wear construction hats or bike helmets to protect yourself from injury.
- Wear proper gloves when you do yard work or work with heavy machinery that has pointy edges.
- Be careful when you use scissors to trim hair or clippers for your nails.
- Use a soft toothbrush. You can be gentle on your gums and avoid bleeds.
- Wear shoes to avoid cuts on your feet.
- Avoid aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Other over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen may be safe to take.
It’s impossible to completely avoid surface skin tears and bleeds. If it does happen, over-the counter products like special bandages and powders may help to block the bleed. Most are available at your local pharmacy.
When you’re taking blood thinners after a DVT, it’s important to follow your doctor’s orders very carefully. You may need to go for regular follow-ups and have blood tests.
Besides surface or visible bleeds, blood thinners can also cause bleeding inside your body. This may make you feel faint or have pain in your back or stomach. If you notice any unusual bleeding or bruising, tell your doctor right away. This could be a serious condition that needs medical attention.
Going back to work after having a serious condition like DVT may feel overwhelming. Talk to your employer, co-workers, doctor, or health care team about the best options for you.