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Avoiding blood clots after surgery

May 12, 2016 | Patricia Harriman
Dr. Alpesh Amin

Dr. Alpesh Amin, chair, UCI Health Department of Medicine


Blood clots are a leading cause of preventable deaths in U.S. hospitals, with nearly 100,000 occurring annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Venous thromboembolism, or VTE, includes blood clots that usually form in the leg, called deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism, which happens when the clot dislodges and travels to the lung.

The good news: Researchers are working to improve patient safety and reduce the risk of healthcare-associated VTEs. The CDC recently honored UCI Health for developing and implementing best-practice protocols for preventing blood clots in hospitalized patients.

Blood clot risk factors

“Most hospitalized patients have at least one risk factor for venous thromboembolism, and many have several,” said Dr. Alpesh Amin, chair of UCI Health Department of Medicine and one of the principal investigators for a University of California effort to reduce healthcare-associated VTE risk.

“Risk factors range from cardiac problems, stroke, pregnancy, obesity, immobilization and accidental trauma, to age, cancer and infection,” he said. “The type of surgery is also a risk factor, particularly orthopedic or operations lasting longer than 30 minutes.”

UCI Health prevents blood clots

UC Irvine is among several U.S. hospitals and health systems recently recognized by the CDC as Healthcare-Associated Venous Thromboembolism Champions for developing innovative strategies and lifesaving procedures to keep hospitalized patients safe.

UCI Health collaborated with the four other UC academic medical centers, located in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Davis, to launch a comprehensive, multi-year plan that resulted in a significant reduction of VTE risk in UC hospitals.

Deep vein thrombosis symptoms

In the case of deep vein thrombosis, what starts out as minor discomfort in the leg can develop into extremely intense pain. When a clot travels to the lung, pulmonary embolism symptoms include chest pain, rapid heart rate and light-headedness. Pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening condition if not immediately treated.

How hospitals prevent clots

The primary method of preventing VTE is giving the patient small doses of blood-thinning medication to keep clots from forming. Some patients also receive special stockings that intermittently squeeze the leg. These treatments can be used alone or in combination.

It is also important for patients to start walking as early and as frequently as their medical condition allows, to shift position while seated, and move their legs and feet often while in bed.

Questions to ask your doctor

When you or a family member goes to the hospital for surgery or medical care for an injury or illness, ask the healthcare team the following questions for peace of mind:

  • Am I at risk for developing blood clots?
  • What is your healthcare-associated VTE prevention policy?
  • How often is the patient assessed for VTE?
  • What is the order set for VTE? (An order set is an evidence-based standardized list of instructions the healthcare team uses to manage a specific diagnosis.)
  • Is the VTE order set included during the admissions process?
  • At what other intervals during the hospital stay is the VTE order set included?

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