One day in 2012, Sara Wyen of Columbus, OH, felt a searing pain behind her left knee. She thought she’d pulled a muscle while running. But over the next 2 days, the pain just got worse. Wyen found it hard to walk -- and then to breathe. When she went to the hospital 2 days later, she was shocked to learn that a blood clot had formed in her leg, broken off, and traveled into her lung.
Wyen spent about 10 days in the hospital, being treated with blood thinners. But a year later, she couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened.
“The anxiety was extremely overwhelming,” she says. “It was always in the back of my mind: ‘Could this happen again?’ ”
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is when a blood clot forms deep inside a vein, usually in your leg or pelvis. Sometimes, as in Wyen’s case, the clot can break off and go through your bloodstream to a lung. This can cause a blockage called a pulmonary embolism (PE), which can be deadly.
For many people, DVT is a life-changing event and one that can cause anxiety and stress. You have a lot to get used to, whether it’s medications and compression stockings or changes in your daily routine or at your job. And like Wyen, you may not be able to shake the fear that you’ll get another clot. If you haven’t had major health issues before, you may find it even harder to keep your anxiety in check.
Here’s what can help.
Talk to Your Doctor
“Try to get a complete understanding of DVT, including what to expect early on, what to expect a few months later, and how it can be managed on a lifelong basis. Information is really important,” says Marc A. Passman, MD, a professor of surgery and director of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, Vein Program.
Write down any questions or concerns you have, and take them to each medical visit. Then, take notes, or bring a family member or friend with you so they can help keep track of what the doctor says. You can read over the notes later if you start feeling anxious.
Know the Signs
Wyen is now very aware of the signs of DVT, such as leg swelling, pain, a change in skin color, or skin that’s warm to the touch. If she notices one of these symptoms, she’ll run through a mental checklist of what the cause could be. “I’ll think, ‘OK, I’ve been sitting for a long time today. I’ll get up and walk around and see if that helps,’ ” she says.
If the problem doesn’t go away, she knows she can call her doctor. But so far, she hasn’t needed to do so.
Take Action to Lower Your Risks
“We have very good guidelines for managing DVT, both early and later on,” Passman says. Besides taking medication that your doctor prescribes, you can do small things every day to help prevent another clot.
For instance, try not to sit for long periods of time. If you can’t avoid it, do heel-toe movements to point and flex your feet, or circle them to get blood moving in your legs. Do your best to fit exercise into your day; even short walks are great. And if you need to get to a healthier weight, talk to your doctor about a plan that’s good for you.
Seek More Support
If your anxiety doesn’t improve, or if it starts to get in the way of your relationships or daily life, think about talking to a counselor. They can teach you coping methods like mindfulness (learning to stay in the moment) or meditation to manage your worries. If you already had anxiety before DVT, “seeking earlier help may be a good idea,” Passman says.
Connect With Others
A DVT support group lets you hear how others deal with their anxiety. They might also give you some ideas on how to manage it. When Wyen found the National Blood Clot Alliance (NBCA) website, StoptheClot.org, “I started to see that active people like me had experienced blood clots, too,” she says. “It was a relief to know people had been through what I’d been through.”
Just remember that your support group is there to provide emotional help, Passman says, but your doctor is still the best source of medical advice.
Today, Wyen works for the NBCA and helps moderate its online support communities. “Part of my job is to tell others who are feeling anxious after a DVT, ‘You’re not the only person out there,’ ” she says.