Jessica Stadler went from being a healthy, active young woman to someone with 3 pulmonary emboli (PEs), and she wants to alert everyone to the signs and symptoms of DVT and PE, so that they seek care right away.
I have always been considered the healthy one among my friends and family. As an athletic young woman, I have grown up athletic, am active, and exercise almost every day. I also eat healthily. I never thought that I would find myself in a hospital on bed rest at age 20 due to a pulmonary embolism (PE). I did a frantic phone search on PE to learn about what was happening and each description contained the word fatal. This was not reassuring. Even though I had no idea what the next few days would hold, I was confident that God was right there with me. I found myself wondering whether I would wake up the next morning.
I attended my college classes, worked and exercised daily, which is my typical routine. I did not feel like myself the entire week that my PE happened. I was more fatigued than my usual sleep-deprived self and I had no appetite. I felt my first chest pain during my workout on Thursday evening that same week. I thought I pulled a muscle, so I kept on running. Later that night I noticed I was also having trouble breathing and the chest pain persisted. On Friday, my pulse rate was incredibly fast and I still felt chest pain and short of breath, even when sitting down. My mom finally took me to an urgent care doctor because of my symptoms. They did an EKG on me that was normal. The doctor decided that I probably had inflamed lungs, so ordered a breathing treatment and sent me home.
When I woke up on Saturday, I did not feel any better, and went to an eight hour shift at work. I felt more horrible with each passing minute at work, and the shift dragged. My chest pain was constant and intense, my pulse was racing at a frighteningly high rate, and I could barely talk, much less breathe. I got even more concerned when I found it difficult to walk up a flight of 7 stairs that were easy for me to sprint before. I felt as if I was having a heart attack, and I got a burning sensation down my left arm as I drove to meet my mother for dinner. As soon as she saw me, she took me straight to the ER.
A CAT scan finally detected my 3 pulmonary emboli after 5 hours of other tests. The doctor figured out right away that I was on birth control pills. I was shocked that a medicine I had been taking for other medical reasons made me this sick. I no longer take birth control pills. It was not until 4 doctors and numerous nurses told me how lucky and blessed I was to be lying in the bed alive that I realized just how close I was to having an unhappy ending.
I ended up in the hospital for a week. I was unwillingly placed on bed rest for the first 24 hours until the ultrasound done confirmed that I didn’t have a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in either leg. The next few days brought a heap of new information that overwhelmed me. Heparin and warfarin became my new best friends. After days of being counseled about my new life on blood thinners, I left the hospital to go back to my crazy life.
I took blood thinners for eight months and was given the okay recently to stop them. I tested negative for blood clotting disorders, although my doctor may repeat the tests in the future. There is no history of blood clots in my birth family. This whole experience has molded me into a new person. I thank God daily for blessing me with a new day to try to make a difference in this world. I have done things I would never have done before and am living with no regrets.
My goal is to encourage people, especially young women on hormonal birth control, to recognize that it carries some risk for blood clots, and to seek care should they ever experience any signs and symptoms of DVT or PE. Blood clots are not something that can be ignored. I was fortunate that I didn’t wait another hour to go to the ER, because I might have experienced a very different outcome.
Take Home Messages
- Seek care immediately for persistent chest pain and/or shortness of breath
- Persist in seeking care if symptoms do not go away
- Change in ability to do usual tasks or exercise can indicate a health problem
- Estrogen-based birth control pills increase risk for blood clots
- Learn signs and symptoms of DVT and PE and share them with friends and family