Avoiding Blood Clots During Surgical Recovery
Every surgery involves risks. We explain why a blood clot can form after surgery, and help you understand the dangers associated with this complication.
Our blood has a job that is a study in contrasts. On one hand, it is the liquid tributary that carries oxygen and nutrients to every part of our body. On the other hand, when we are cut or injured, we depend on our blood to instantly transform from flowing conduit to sticky dam. The ability of our blood to clot is one of our body’s safety mechanisms, keeping us from losing too much blood.
A blood clot is formed when blood cells bond. Contact with certain substances will trigger tiny platelets in the blood to change shape and stick together. This platelet activation attracts other platelets and causes the production of long strands of fibrin in the blood. Fibrin strands and platelets gather and mix, forming a mesh of cells called a clot, or “thrombus.”
Three conditions can cause blood to clot:
- Injury. When a blood vessel is damaged, certain substances come in contact with flowing blood and trigger the clotting process. Activated platelets stick to the walls around the injured area and plug the broken part of the vessel wall. Proteins in the blood regulate the size of the clot and prevent it from becoming larger than it needs to be. As the injury heals, the clot dissolves and your blood reclaims the platelets and clot cells.
- Cholesterol plaques in arteries. Cholesterol can build up along the walls of our arteries, forming plaques. If a plaque breaks open, it will trigger the clotting process in flowing blood. Most strokes and heart attacks are triggered by a plague that breaks open in the brain or heart.
- Blood that pools instead of flowing properly. Some conditions can slow down blood circulation and cause blood to pool in the heart or blood vessels instead of flowing smoothly through. Dangerous clots can form in this pooled, slow-moving blood.
A major surgery like a hip or knee replacement causes many people to become less active in the days or weeks following surgery. Inactivity and immobility cause the blood to slow down, increasing the risk that a dangerous blood clot could form in a vein deep in the body. A clot that forms in a major vein deep in the body is called a deep vein thrombus. If this clot breaks free and is carried by the blood, it can lodge in an artery in the lung, causing sudden blockage of blood to the lung. A small clot may damage the lung, but if a clot is large enough, it can be deadly.
At Summit Orthopedics, we take preventative measures with our surgical patients to impede the formation of blood clots. Following surgery, patients may be treated with medications to make blood thinner. Postsurgical patients also wear compression socks that increase blood flow by gently squeezing the calf and leg.
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