Tennis champion Serena Williams was recently hospitalized for treatment of a life-threatening pulmonary embolus. While it may be surprising to hear about a world class athlete being stricken by a condition typically associated with inactivity, athletes can be particularly susceptible to this condition.
A pulmonary embolus is the result of a clot traveling through the circulatory system and lodging in the lungs. There it will obstruct blood flow to the lungs. These emboli usually originate in the veins of the lower extremities as a thrombosis.
Symptoms of a pulmonary embolus include; chest pain, shortness of breath, unexplained coughing and rapid heart rate. Each year 600,000 Americans suffer a pulmonary embolus and 60,000 of these patients will die.
Traveling long distances, dehydration, trauma, immobilization, oral contraceptive use and family history are all risk factors. Many of these factors are common among injured athletes.
Ms. Williams has recently had two surgeries for a foot injury and has been wearing an immobilizing brace. The event occurred shortly after a transcontinental flight. Fortunately, her condition was treated quickly with anti-coagulant (blood thinning) medications.
The best way to prevent pulmonary emboli is to stretch often when traveling, remain well hydrated and be aware of symptoms.
Pulmonary emboli can affect anyone, but a few simple steps can avoid serious injury.
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