How to Prevent Blood Clots After Surgery

Instructor: Zona Taylor

Zona has taught Nursing and has a master's degree in Nursing Education and Maternal-Infant Nursing from University of Maryland Baltimore.

In this lesson, you'll learn about blood clots as a possible complication of surgery and actions that can reduce the risk of health problems due to blood blots after surgery.

Blood Clots and Surgery

The complication of surgery that is most easily prevented is the formation of blood clots, which are gelatinous masses in the blood formed by red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets mixed with fibrin. Under normal circumstances, a clot forms to stop bleeding, such as when you get a paper cut.

During surgery, you lie immobile while under anesthesia and then do not move much afterwards while sleeping off the anesthesia. All this immobility contributes to the formation of blood clots. If the blood clots too easily and forms inside the blood vessels, there can be serious health consequences. To understand how to prevent blood clots, let's first look at how they are formed.

Blood Clot inside Blood Vessel
blood clot

Understanding Blood Clots

The purpose of the circulatory system is to delivery oxygen and nutrients to the cells of the body and to carry away waste products, e.g. carbon dioxide and other byproducts of metabolism. If a blood clot forms in an artery, which is a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the cells, the life-giving oxygen and nutrition never reaches the cells, and they begin to die. In the brain, this can begin to happen in just 4-6 minutes. This is similar to what happens when there is a natural disaster and deliveries cannot be made to grocery stores. People run out of food and water and the situation becomes desperate.

If a blood vessel carrying blood away from the cells and back to the heart (veins) is blocked, the waste products cannot leave the area 'behind' the blood clot. The resulting back up is somewhat like a traffic jam when an accident occurs that completely shuts down all the lanes of the highway for hours.

If the clot remains in a vein too long, the damage to the area can be permanent with long-term health issues. This is more like when a bridge washes out in a big storm. It can take months before traffic can return to its normal route. But imagine what would happen if there was no other way off an island. By the time the new bridge was built, all the waste and trash would be piled so high that life on the island would be really miserable, if it was even possible to still live there, right?

Waste make life miserable or impossible when too much accumulates
trash heap,waste products

If the blood flows too slowly or pools in the feet or legs, the risk for blood clots forming is increased, especially in the leg and thigh. If the clot forms in a large deep vein, the clot is called a deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. Some blood clots, like those that break loose and move to the lungs (known as pulmonary embolism, or PE), can cause sudden death. Since you are more likely to get a blood clot after surgery, it is obvious that prevention is the best option. Let's check out several exercises and medications that you can use to reduce the risk of blood clots after surgery.

Steps to Avoiding Blood Clots

There are exercises, medications and tools that you can use to aid you after surgery, but it's important to note that stopping smoking and maintaining a healthy body mass index are things you can do prior to going into surgery to help as well.

1. Leg exercises - start as soon as you wake up in the recovery room and continue every hour while awake until you return to normal level of activity again. The leg exercises are called foot pumps. To do them, simply point your foot and toes as far as possible forward and downward and then bring the toes back up to point toward the nose. It is similar to the movement of the foot on the gas pedal of a car. First, you floor it. Then you take your foot completely off the pedal. Doing at least ten repetitions of this per hour has been shown to reduce the incidence of blood clots in patients after surgery.

Leg Exercises to Start in Recovery Room to Prevent Blood Clots After Surgery
foot pumps,leg exercises,ankle pumps

2. Sequential compression device, or SCD, an apparatus on each leg that intermittently squeezes the calf muscle and then relaxes. The idea is to simulate walking, which helps prevent clots by keeping the blood moving.

Sequential Compression Device in Use to Prevent Blood Clots After Surgery

3. Some doctors order special compression stockings to help prevent the formation of blood clots.

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