What Are the Risks of Blood Clots after Surgery?

Autumn Rivers

One of the main risks of surgery is blood clots, particularly when the patient has to stay on bed rest during recovery. Patients who undergo surgery to remove cancer, as well as those who have a knee or hip replaced, tend to have the highest risk of blood clots after surgery. When a blood clot occurs deep in the leg it is known as deep vein thrombosis and can result in damage to veins and make the legs swell up. Another major blood-clot risk is pulmonary embolism, in which a blood clot creates a blockage in the lungs, sometimes resulting in death. It is possible to prevent blood clots after surgery by moving around every few hours during recovery, even when on bed rest.

Compression stockings may prevent post-surgical blood clots from forming.
Compression stockings may prevent post-surgical blood clots from forming.

Deep veins, which are situated well inside the leg muscles, can develop clots when the blood becomes stagnant instead of continuing to flow. The most common symptoms include pain, warmth and redness in one area of the leg; the leg may also begin to swell. While some patients experience all these symptoms, others do not notice any of them. Patients who suspect deep vein thrombosis are encouraged to see a doctor, who can use an ultrasound to confirm a diagnosis. One of the main complications of this condition is post-phlebitic syndrome, in which the leg becomes painful and swollen with changes to the color of the skin.

Blood clots may form after surgery when a patient is on bed rest.
Blood clots may form after surgery when a patient is on bed rest.

Another risk of blood clots after surgery is pulmonary embolism, which occurs when a clot breaks off and travels to the lungs. This can occur when a clot is not treated right away. Symptoms that a simple clot has morphed into this possibly fatal condition include chest pain, shortness of breath and a cough that produces bloody discharge. Some patients also wheeze, sweat unexpectedly or notice that their skin is clammy. Patients experiencing these symptoms are advised to see a doctor for treatment, because pulmonary embolism can be fatal.

While patients are generally advised to rest after surgical procedures, doctors usually recommend that they get up and move around every few hours to prevent blood clots after surgery. While this may feel uncomfortable, it is better than developing complications resulting from a blood clot. Many patients are also given compression garments, such as stockings, to avoid blood clots after surgery. They also are advised to limit their sodium intake and put their legs above their heart at least a few times each day.

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