We typically think of blood clots and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) as medical issues caused by being immobile for long periods, like after a long plane ride or post-surgery. Did you know, though, you can also develop dangerous blood clots after a car accident? These internal injuries can go unnoticed and travel up to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism and a life-threatening medical emergency. It’s important to understand the risk and the symptoms of blood clots after a car accident, so you or your loved one can receive timely medical care.
How blood clots develop after injury
Even a minor injury can greatly increase your chances to develop a blood clot. WebMD explains the physiological process of how a blood clot forms in the leg:
Any time a blood vessel gets damaged, the nearby blood can thicken and organize into a sticky clump, or clot. Some clots only affect veins near your skin’s surface. This condition, called superficial thrombophlebitis, typically doesn’t lead to serious problems. When a blood clot forms farther inside your leg, it’s known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). These clots can be dangerous if they break loose and travel to your lungs. Doctors call this a pulmonary embolism (PE).
Although any type of injury may cause a blood clot, you should be on the lookout after a car accident, especially if you experience any type of trauma (even minor) to the leg.
Car accidents, blood vessels, and pulmonary embolisms
Car accidents can cause a variety of different injuries, often to the legs and other parts of the body. This trauma can cause both internal and external bleeding, and the body will start immediately creating clots as a response to that trauma. As explained earlier, when a clot breaks loose, it can create a life-threatening emergency.
However, it’s also important to note anything – not just a blood clot – that breaks loose and travels in the blood vessels can cause a pulmonary embolism (PE). This can include fragments of broken bones, air bubbles, or anything resulting from a serious injury. A PE can also result from long periods of immobility, which can be common after a serious car accident. When a patient is confined in one position for too long, like laying down, their blood flow slows and pools, raising the risk of a DVT and pulmonary embolism.
Recognizing the signs of DVT and pulmonary embolisms and knowing the steps to take to avoid them can literally save your life or the life of a loved one.
Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a host of valuable information about PE. They note that symptoms of a pulmonary embolism can appear in seconds, minutes, days, or even weeks, which is what makes them so dangerous. A PE typically comes from a blood clot in the leg (DVT). Symptoms of DVT are often mistaken for another injury, like a pulled or sprained muscle. However, a DVT also shows the following symptoms:
- Swelling and redness
- Pain and tenderness
- Warm to the touch
- Veins that stick out
Symptoms of a PE may start off mild and then increase in severity, and include (from most common to least common):
- Shortness of breath
- Pain with deep breaths
- High heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Coughing (with or without blood)
- Feelings of “doom”
- Lightheadedness or fainting
It’s crucial to get medical attention as soon as possible if you suspect you may have a DVT or PE, as these are potentially fatal conditions.
Diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary embolisms
Your doctor will take a physical examination, discuss your symptoms, and perform some diagnostic tests, which typically include:
- Computed tomography pulmonary angiography (CTPA), which is the primary test to diagnose PEs. A CTPA takes pictures of the blood vessels to look for blood clots in the lungs.
- Ventilation perfusion scan. This measures the air flow and blood flow in the lungs. If this flow is disrupted, it may be a sign of a pulmonary embolism.
- Blood test. Certain substances in the blood can signal the presence of a DVT, which can lead to a pulmonary embolism.
- Pulmonary angiography. This is typically used to confirm the presence of a PE after other testing points to one, as it is a slightly more invasive test involving inserting a small tube into the blood vessel.
Once your physician confirms a pulmonary embolism, they will treat it immediately. An untreated DVT or PE can lead to heart attack, stroke, or death – it is crucial to get medical attention.
The Mayo Clinic discusses the various treatments available for PEs. Generally these are either medical or surgical interventions.
- Medical: These treatments include things like blood thinners (anticoagulants), and clot dissolvers (thrombolytics). Anticoagulants prevent existing clots from enlarging and new clots from forming. Thrombolytics are generally saved for life-threatening emergencies and can dissolve clots quickly, but may also cause serious and uncontrolled bleeding.
- Surgical: Your doctor may choose the surgical route for larger, potentially deadly blood clots in the lung. They can remove it “via a thin, flexible tube (catheter) threaded through your blood vessels.” Or, they place a filter in the inferior vena cava (the vein that leads from your legs to your heart) to prevent blood clots from reaching your lungs.
After any type of blood clot, DVT, or pulmonary embolism medical emergency, it’s crucial to continue following doctor’s orders. Per the Mayo Clinic, “Because you may be at risk of another deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, it’s important to continue treatment, such as remaining on blood thinners, and be monitored as often as suggested by your doctor. Also, keep regular doctor visits to prevent or treat complications.”
If you or a loved one were in a car accident, don’t brush off any so-called “minor” leg injuries. It’s important to be aware of the signs of more serious injuries, especially things like blood clots that could lead to deadly consequences like a pulmonary embolism. When you suffer harm in a car crash that wasn’t your fault, you’re eligible for compensation from the at-fault driver, so don’t hesitate to get medical attention immediately. If you have questions or need help, talk to an experienced South Carolina attorney as soon as possible – we can help.
At McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC our car accident and personal injury lawyers are ready to protect your rights and fight for the compensation to which you are entitled for your losses and damages. To schedule a free consultation with one of our South Carolina attorneys, call our offices or fill out our contact form today. We’re ready to get started on your claim.
Randy is the former President of the South Carolina Association for Justice. He has been certified by the American Board of Professional Liability as a specialist in Medical Malpractice Law which is recognized by the South Carolina Bar. Randy has also been awarded the distinction of being a “Super Lawyer” 10 times in the last decade. He has over 25 years of experience helping injured people fight back against corporations, hospitals and wrong-doers.
Read more about S. Randall Hood