There are a lot of good reasons to keep your inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in check. One more you can add to the list is preventing blood clots. That might seem a little odd, but IBD makes you up to three times more likely to get one.
You can protect yourself better if you find out what raises your odds of blood clots, learn what to look for, and take steps to prevent them.
Who Is More Likely to Get a Blood Clot?
A lot of things can raise your chances of getting a blood clot when you have IBD.
Flare-ups. Even when your IBD is calm and you don't have symptoms, you're still a bit more likely to have clots than someone without it. But your risk really jumps when you have a flare-up. The more severe it is, the more you need to look out for clots. Your chances also go up if your IBD is more serious or widespread.
You're in the hospital. There are two main reasons for this. One is that you're most likely there because of a severe flare-up. The other is that in the hospital you tend to be off your feet, which boosts your risk, too.
You don't get enough nutrients. IBD can mean your body can't always get what it needs from the food you eat. Over time, you can get low on nutrients, like proteins or vitamins. And that can raise the odds that you'll get a clot.
Your chances of getting a clot also go up if you:
- Are low on fluids (for example, you've been throwing up or have diarrhea)
- Use birth control pills or get hormone replacement therapy
- Have central venous catheters, which are thin tubes used to put medicine into your blood
- Don't move around much, like when you're in a hospital bed
- Are pregnant
- Have surgery
- Get treatment with steroids
How Would I Know If I Had a Clot?
It depends where you get it.
Symptoms in your legs. Be on the lookout for:
- Pain or tenderness in the back of your lower leg, which might feel like a cramp
- Red or bluish color to your skin
- Swelling in your lower legs, especially when it's more in one leg than the other
Swelling in the legs can be tricky because other problems linked to IBD, like low protein, can also cause it. Still, if you have symptoms of a clot, it's best to call your doctor right away, even if you're not sure.
Symptoms in your lungs. You may notice:
- You cough for no reason, maybe with bloody mucus
- Your heart beats faster than normal
- You get a sharp, stabbing pain in your chest that may get worse when you take a deep breath
- You feel short of breath
If you have these symptoms, get help right away. A clot in your lungs is an emergency.
Is My IBD Treatment Linked to Blood Clots?
Treatment with steroids can make someone with IBD up to five times more likely to have a blood clot. Other drugs don't have this effect. Your doctor may suggest you limit steroids.
How Can I Prevent Clots?
If you're in the hospital, it's likely you'll get a drug called heparin, which will help prevent clots. Your doctor may even talk to you about how to take it at home during severe flare-ups, since that's when you're most at risk.
It also helps to:
Work with your doctor to control IBD as best as you can. Fewer flare-ups means less inflammation, which lowers your risk.
Keep as active as you can. When you don't move your body, your blood flow slows down. And slower-moving blood is more likely to clot.
Make sure you get all the nutrients you need. It can be a challenge with IBD, but it's an important step.