Blood clots are a crucial part of the body's ability to heal from injury. That's because when you get wounded, your circulatory system quickly gets to work at plugging any open blood vessels by clumping at the injury site. However, in many cases, blood clots within your body can pose a potentially serious risk to your health, leading to heart attack, stroke, and other life-threatening conditions.
That's why experts are sounding the alarm about one thing you may be wearing that can heighten your risk of a dangerous blood clot. They say that if you wear this—especially if you wear it for a long time—you may be in danger of pulmonary embolism, a type of clot that can travel to the lungs and become fatal. Read on to find out which one item may be putting you at risk.
Wearing an immobile cast or brace significantly raises your blood clot risk.
If you suffer a bone fracture or receive surgery on the foot, ankle, or leg, you may find yourself wearing an immobile cast or brace to assist your recovery. However, one 2017 study published by Informed Health (IH) warns that wearing this type of restrictive healing aid may put you at increased risk of blood clots from a condition called Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). "If you wear a plaster cast or brace for several days or weeks, the blood flow through your veins is slower than if you can move normally," the researchers explain. "This increases the risk of a blood clot (thrombus) forming in a leg or pelvic vein. Blood clots may end up blocking veins, preventing blood from flowing through them properly," the study's authors add.
Though most cases of DVT resolve on their own, a 2008 study reports that roughly 270,000 Americans are hospitalized from the condition each year. That's because, in some rare cases, the blood clot can travel through the bloodstream into the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism (PE). One 2011 study estimates that between 100,000 and 180,000 Americans die from pulmonary embolism each year at a rate of one PE death every five minutes.
You may be able to offset your increased clot risk while wearing a brace.
When it comes to lowering your risk of clotting from DVT, experts say the key is to resume movement in the immobilized limb as soon as possible. And while you can't exactly will yourself to heal faster, your doctor can help you come up with a plan that allows you to get moving without interfering with the healing process or causing additional strain.
The study's researchers share that wearing compression socks on your uninjured leg can also be an effective way to get your circulatory system moving in the meantime. "These special stockings apply pressure to the leg, helping the veins to carry the blood back to the heart faster," the Informed Health study authors write.
Certain medications may also help reduce your risk.
If you suspect you're at higher risk for DVT following a slow-healing injury, your doctor may be able to recommend certain interventions to help. For instance, anticoagulant medications—heparin, in particular—may help reduce your risk of blood clots. You or your doctor will inject this medication subcutaneously until the healing process is complete.
However, because heparin injections can cause bleeding, they may be considered risky for people with certain health conditions—especially those with stomach ulcers. "The risk of bleeding is somewhat higher in men than in women, and generally increases with age. The bleeding is very rarely so bad that a blood transfusion is needed, and very rarely affects vital organs," the IH researchers note.
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Look out for these symptoms of DVT.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to learn the signs and signals that you're suffering from DVT. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while approximately half of those with DVT will have no symptoms, others experience swelling, redness, pain, and tenderness on the affected leg. If you notice any of these symptoms, it's time to call your doctor.
In the rare event that your episode of DVT does develop into a pulmonary embolism, you'll require immediate medical attention. Symptoms of pulmonary embolism include shortness of breath, rapid pulse, rapid breathing, chest pain, coughing up blood, and feeling faint or dizzy.
Though the worst-case scenario is unlikely to happen, your immobilized state may factor into your ability to call for assistance. Consider keeping your cell phone nearby until your cast is taken off so that help is always within arm's reach.