My Strained Muscle was a Blood Clot: Cristal’s Story

Categories: Patient Stories

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I am a female, in my mid-twenties, and I am very active. I experienced calf pain for about two weeks, which I attributed to a strain from uphill running, and other cardiovascular and weight lifting workouts. Towards the end of two weeks, the pain in my right calf was to the point where I couldn’t ignore it, and I found myself trying to prop my leg up under my desk. The pain was worse when I was sitting down, and it felt better when I started to run. I decided to pop into a nearby physical therapist’s office. I explained my symptoms, and the doctor recommended a few stretches. In hindsight, I did not experience what I would call typical symptoms of a blood clot. My leg pain wasn’t excruciating, but more of an annoyance, and I didn’t have any redness or swelling.

One morning, after a run, I sat down at my desk and noticed my back had a dull ache near the middle and right side of my spine. I thought I needed to drink more water. The pain gradually worsened throughout the day. By the end of the day, I decided to cancel my afternoon plans, and go lie down. By 8:00 p.m. my back pain had reached noticeable discomfort. By 10:00 p.m., I realized I was altering my breathing to not have to take full, deep, breaths, which were painful. I decided it was time to go to the ER. Going to the emergency room was not my usual reaction, and even though I still didn’t except anything serious, I figured if it hurt to breathe, it was better to err on the side of caution and get it checked out.

Once the doctor in the ER examined me, it was determined that I had a strained muscle from my workouts, and the discharge process was started. I’m not a dramatic person, but I know my pain tolerance is high enough to handle a pulled muscle, and I knew that wasn’t what I was experiencing. Thank God I pushed back on the ER doctor, and asked to speak to her boss.

A second doctor came in and said if we wanted to err on the side of caution, we could do a D-dimer blood test to check for increased clotting factors in my blood. I hate needles, but I knew at least my peace of mind would be worth taking the test. Shortly after the test, the doctor came in and said they suspected a blood clot, and I was taken for an immediate CT scan. The scan showed I had not one, but two massive clots in both my right and left lungs.

They suspected the pain in my calf was a DVT that travelled up my right leg, and split into both my right and left lung. The situation changed immediately, and I was told to minimize my movements, when just 12 hours ago I was in the middle of running five miles. Now, I was being told that I couldn’t even walk down the hall to go to the bathroom. The doctors brought me up to the intensive care unity (ICU) and started me on a heparin drip. That night they discharged me with a prescription for a new oral anticoagulant, which worked very well for me.

After the fact, we did several blood tests to determine the suspected cause of the clot. I had not traveled or had a recent surgery, and I do not remain stationary for long periods of the day. I am young, active, and healthy. I did not test positive for any genetic causes, and my family does not have a history of clots. I was on estrogen-based birth control pills for 8-10 years without any prior issues, but given that my particular birth control has been linked to blood clots, I determined that this was most likely the cause. My hematologist was adamant I never get back on a birth control containing estrogen.

After my experience, I called the physical therapist who first examined me, to let him know what happened, in hopes that he can help someone else in the future. I’m so thankful I listened to my body, when I knew something was off. I’m also very thankful to have stood up for myself and questioned the ER doctors about my situation. I hope my experience can help others.

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Author: SW