Risk of Blood Clots After Surgery


Blood clots are clumps of blood that get trapped or stuck in the major veins or arteries in the body. The clots form to stop bleeding after surgeries and are commonly found in the legs. Once a clot breaks free and is in the bloodstream it can go to any organ and cause damage by stopping the flow of blood to that organ. After surgery, patients are at high risk for blood clots.


After surgeries, patients are not moving as well as prior to the surgery, and clots can form. When a patient is not walking and moving his legs, his heart may not get the proper amount of blood flow. The pumping action to the heart is decreased when blood clots block the flow of blood. Also, because a patient's legs may have been moved, turned and twisted to perform the surgery, blood vessel walls can be irritated and damaged, causing clots to form.


The symptoms of blood clots after surgery are pain, warmth, redness and swelling in the leg. Patients will also have shortness of breath if the clot breaks free and goes to the lungs.

Types of Surgeries

Any surgery contains risks for developing blood clots, but hip and knee surgeries have the highest risk. It is estimated that 30 to 50 percent of knee and hip surgery patients develop blood clots. Any type of joint replacement surgery runs the risk of a clot forming and breaking loose. Surgeries that result in a patient not being able to move around set up the risk of blood clots.


Some people are at higher risk for developing a blood clot after surgery if they have certain diseases or life factors. Smokers, obese people, and people who have hypertension or are on birth control pills or hormone replacement are at greater risk for clots.


Blood clots are treated with anti-blood clotting medicines such as lovenox and coumadin. The doctor will order these medicines after surgery and you will need to remain on them for 6 to 12 weeks. Your doctor will also call for blood work to make sure the levels are therapeutic, and he will monitor the clot with ultrasounds and x-rays as well.


The best way to prevent blood clots after surgery is to get up and moving--ideally the same day or the next, depending on the surgery. Also, stockings and pumps can be applied to the legs to compress the vessels and keep the blood flowing to stop clots from forming.

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