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Lauren Murdock had venous clots in her brain that seemed to come out of the blue during her time at college, but she found positive ways to cope.
2010 started off as an amazing year for me. I was adjusting to life at a new university, socially active on campus, and had adopted a healthy, active lifestyle that I assumed would assure me longevity and great health. In March of 2010 however, my life took an unexpected turn. It all started with an excruciating headache the night before midterms that would not go away despite use of ibuprofen. I tried to ignore my pain by studying, walking around campus, and sleeping, but nothing helped.
That same night I woke up at 2:00 AM and called a taxi to go to the Emergency Room (ER). I felt a bit dramatic about going to the ER for what I thought was a simple headache. As it turns out, I was not being ridiculous, since my decision likely saved my life. I was diagnosed with a dural venous sinus thrombosis- a blood clot on my brain.
I was terrified because I had no idea what caused my blood clot. I never used birth control pills, never smoked, and lead a pretty healthy lifestyle. The doctors believe that my clot comes from an inherited blood clotting disorder, even though I have tested negative for any thus far. However, there is a history of blood clots in my family. My father had recurrent blood clots in the form of a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE), although he was not found to have a blood clotting disorder. I believe that his father had blood clots before he passed away, but know for sure that my dad’s paternal aunt had more than one clot. So, in my family, my father and his aunt are permanently on blood thinners, but have not been diagnosed with any clotting disorder. Also, my mother’s sister recently died instantly from a traveling clot in her leg, but doctors believe that occurred due to her lack of physical movement.
I felt as if my life was halted at age 19, because of my diagnosis. I missed out on two semesters of school and I was forced to adapt to many changes which included taking oral and self-injected blood thinners, and attending weekly doctor appointments to have my INR tested. I returned to my home university nine months later, and was extremely anxious to pick up where I had left off. After my doctor gave me permission to discontinue taking blood thinners because there was no indication of a blood clotting disorder or other risks for clots, I was diagnosed with a second clot in another location on my brain during the summer of 2011. My clot recurrence discouraged me even more. Even though I felt handicapped for a while, I overcame that when I realized that my attitude and perseverance sustained me.
In spite of the health challenges that I’ve faced with blood clots, I was still able to complete my undergraduate degree at age 21 and pursue my original career goals. None of my dreams were unfulfilled due to my diagnosis. I now see myself as living proof to others that anything can be accomplished through hard work. I could have easily slowed down or given up on my dreams as a result of my diagnosis; instead, I conquered my illness by becoming more informed about blood clots, maintaining a positive attitude and keeping sight of my life aspirations.
What I thought was only a headache turned out to be a life-threatening blood clot. I am still not sure whether I have a specific blood clotting disorder, but I do know signs and symptoms and risks of blood clots. Today, my goal is to educate others on the symptoms and risks of blood clots to try to prevent someone else from going through what I did.
Take Home Messages
- Seek care for any unusual or persistent headache.
- It is safer to call an ambulance to go to the Emergency Room in case symptoms worsen on the way.
- Family history of blood clots may increase risk for them.
- Immobility is a risk factor for blood clots (patient’s aunt).
- Recurrent venous blood clots are usually treated with blood thinners for life.
- A positive attitude can help coping with illness.