Months after giving birth to her daughter, Serena Williams revealed that she had to have an emergency C-section and soon after experienced a pulmonary embolism, a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when a blood clot makes its way to the lungs. And although it’s been a year and a half since Williams’s daughter was born, she is still worried about blood clots.
Williams wore fishnet compression stockings for her first-round match at the Australian Open that, it seems, are for her health and for style. Williams told reporters at a press conference at the tournament that, per Reuters, she’s “definitely still concerned” about blood clots and the possibility of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs.
“I have had some issues, and they’re not done. So it’s just something I just have to do for pretty much probably the rest of my career, we’ll see. But I’m always at the doctor,” Williams said. “With DVT, it’s very scary,” she continued. “A lot of people have them. Especially for me, it’s incredibly frightening. I lay on the side of precaution as opposed to not.”
Having a history of blood clots does raise your risk for DVT in the future.
Deep vein thrombosis can be caused by anything that keeps your blood from circulating or clotting as it would normally, like an injury to a vein, surgery, certain medications, and limited movement, the Mayo Clinic says. Having an inherited blood-clotting disorder, being pregnant, taking hormonal birth control pills, being overweight or obese, smoking, and being older than 60 also raise your risk.
Having had DVT in the past does make it more likely that you'll have another one, but it’s hard to estimate exactly how often that happens. One recent study conducted by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that, among 156 people with a history of DVT, more than 10 percent had another DVT within the three-year study period.
If you've had DVT before, your risk of having another blood clot typically depends on what caused it the first time and your current risk factors, Ashley Vavra, M.D., an assistant professor of vascular surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, tells SELF. The extent of the clot at the initial diagnosis and how much scar tissue it leaves behind also contribute to whether you'll develop DVT again, study coauthor Mounir Haurani, M.D., a vascular surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF.
There are a few things you can do to lower your risk of experiencing another blood clot.
Your doctor will likely put you on a blood thinner in the immediate aftermath of your DVT and will continue to keep you on it “for some period of time,” Jennifer Haythe, M.D., codirector of the Women's Center for Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and cardiologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia, tells SELF.
Exactly how long you'll stay on it depends on your individual case, but it will likely be at least three months, Jack Jacoub, M.D., a hematologist and oncologist and medical director of MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SELF. But, if you still have other strong risk factors for DVT or your medical team is having a hard time figuring out what caused your first DVT, your doctor may want to put you on a blood thinner for longer than that or even for life, Dr. Haurani says.
Certain lifestyle changes, like walking around on long flights and train rides, stopping for frequent breaks on long drives, and avoiding sitting for long periods of time, can also help, Dr. Haythe says. Wearing compression stockings if you know you won’t be able to walk for long periods (like on a long flight) can also be beneficial, Dr. Vavra says.
It’s also important to know the signs of DVT and a pulmonary embolism—especially the ones that you experienced last time—and act quickly if you start to experience them, Dr. Jacoub says. For DVT, that might include pain in your leg that could feel like cramping or soreness, red or discolored skin on your leg, and a feeling of warmth in your leg. And for a pulmonary embolism, you might notice a sudden shortness of breath, chest pain, lightheadedness, a rapid pulse, and coughing up blood.
If you’ve had DVT in the past, it’s important to talk to your doctor about what this means for your health now and in the future—and keep up that conversation. “All patients with a prior DVT should establish care with a primary care physician for regular checkups,” Dr. Vavra says.