Venous Thromboembolism Recovery
As you recover from your treatment for venous thromboembolism (VTE), you will need to follow up with your doctor regularly to monitor your condition and discuss whether you need to continue taking blood-thinning medicines. You will also want to take steps to prevent a repeat VTE event and be aware of possible long-term complications. See a doctor or go to the emergency room if you have any signs of excessive bleeding, which can happen if your medicine dose is too high.
How can VTE affect your health?
Possible complications of VTE include:
- Post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS): Poor blood flow, inflammation, and blood vessel damage from deep vein thrombosis can cause swelling and discomfort. PTS is a long-lasting condition that can be disabling. With PTS, you may notice swelling, pain, itchiness, or discoloration in the affected area, along with cramping or fatigue. The symptoms may feel worse if you have been on your feet for an extended period. In severe cases, skin sores may develop. Compression stockings may help relieve PTS symptoms.
- Pulmonary hypertension: Pulmonary embolism blocks blood flow and raises blood pressure in the vessels leading to your lungs. This condition can lead to heart failure. If you develop pulmonary hypertension, you may find it hard to breathe, especially after physical activity, or you may cough up blood, notice swelling, feel tired, have palpitations (feelings that your heart is beating too hard or too fast), or faint. If you still have pulmonary hypertension several months after a VTE event, your doctor may refer you to a specialist to talk about the possibility of surgery to remove a lung clot that has not gone away with treatment.
Prevent a repeat VTE event
About 1 in 3 people who have had VTE will experience a repeat VTE event in the next 10 years. It can take a year or more for clots to break up or stabilize and for blood flow to return to normal. If you were previously treated with blood thinners and experience a repeat VTE event, your doctor may recommend changing your medicine dose or switching you to a different type of blood thinner.
To prevent a repeat VTE event:
- See your doctor for regular checkups and follow-up tests and treatment.
- Talk to your doctor about your risk for a repeat VTE event. The risk of a repeat VTE is higher for African Americans and Hispanic Americans than it is for white Americans. It is also higher for men than for women.
- Take all medicines as your doctor prescribes. A repeat event while you are taking medicines is rare, but if it does occur, your doctor may switch your medicine or increase the dose. If you stop taking blood-thinning medicines, your doctor may suggest that you take aspirin to reduce the risk of getting another clot.
Receive routine follow-up care
Follow your doctor’s instructions and schedule regular appointments.
- Tell your doctor if symptoms such as pain or swelling continue. Your doctor may prescribe compression stockings to give you relief.
- Tell your doctor if you notice that you bruise easily. Also report if you have unexpected bleeding, such as when you floss or go to the toilet; or have unusually heavy menstrual periods.
- Take all medicines as prescribed. You will probably keep taking medicines to treat VTE for 3 months or longer. The most common side effect of blood thinners is bleeding. This side effect can be life-threatening.
- Check your legs for any signs of deep vein clotting. Pay special attention to swollen areas, pain or tenderness, increased warmth in swollen or painful areas, or red or discolored skin. If you think you may have another deep vein clot or are having symptoms of pulmonary embolism, contact your doctor right away.
Your doctor may also schedule regular follow-up tests:
- Blood tests: Blood tests can tell your doctor whether any adjustments are needed to your medicine dose. If you take warfarin to treat VTE, regular blood tests will show how long it takes for your blood to clot. Usually, you do these tests at the doctor’s office or at a clinic. The FDA has also approved several devices for self-testing. Your doctor may also run regular blood tests to check your kidneys or liver if you have taken other blood-thinning medicines for more than a year. This will help your doctor make sure your body can still tolerate the medicine well.
- Ultrasounds: These tests will tell your doctor if your blood clot has gotten bigger or has moved.
Healthy lifestyle changes
When you return home, your doctor may recommend healthy lifestyle changes to help improve your recovery.
- Choose heart-healthy foods. Heart-healthy eating includes limiting the amount of alcohol you drink. Alcohol can also be dangerous if you are taking blood-thinning medicine. If you are taking warfarin, talk with your doctor about your eating patterns and any supplements you take. Foods that contain vitamin K can affect how well warfarin works, so it is important to eat about the same amount of vitamin K each day. Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables and some oils, such as canola and soybean oils.
- Get physically active. It is important to keep moving regularly while you are healing. Ask your medical care team when you can start being physically active and how much activity is appropriate.
- Reach a healthy weight. Overweight and obesity are a risk factor for a repeat VTE event.
- Manage stress. Stress can increase the risk of other conditions that can lead to VTE, such as heart attack and stroke.
- Quit smoking. Smoking also increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, and it may aggravate other factors known to raise the risk of VTE. Visit Smoking and Your Heart and our Your Guide to a Healthy Heart. For free help quitting smoking, you may call the National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848).