Deep Vein Thrombosis: A Hidden Risk of Being a Healthy, Active Cyclist

Take it from 303’s friend Betsy Mercer in Parker:
“Great article for cyclists. Blood clots are a serious health concern and can lead to long term choices in poor fashion, such as one black legging. Endurance athletes have a crazy high willingness to suffer, but listen to your body.”

From Bicycling

Endurance athletes’ lifestyle may make them more susceptible to potentially fatal DVT. Here are the risk factors and symptoms to watch out for.

Vicki Barclay was feeling off. The PhD, 34, a research scientist and mountain bike racer for Stan’s Notubes Elite Women’s team recalls that “for about a week I just didn’t feel right. I felt like I had bad indigestion and discomfort on my left side.” It never occurred to her that it could be a serious blood clotting condition, called Deep Vein Thrombosis; instead, she chalked it up to previous injuries, travel and stress. But then, things got much worse. “I raced a cyclocross race that Saturday and had a pounding headache. I tried to ride the next day and was insanely breathless. Then I drove ten hours to do a ride I’d planned in Pisgah, North Carolina, but I was so weak I couldn’t even get on my bike. I ended up blacking out and going to the hospital.”

The diagnosis was multiple blood clots (pulmonary emboli) in her lungs and a large clot (deep vein thrombosis) in her right leg. Barclay was admitted to the hospital, put on blood thinners and forbidden from mountain biking for the foreseeable future. “I can’t believe it happened to me. I should recover, albeit with a few bits of dead lung, but I went from easily completing multiple workouts a day to struggling to walk without help. The lesson I learned from this experience is not to always push through pain; sometimes stopping and listening to your body can save your life.”

Read the full article

3 thoughts on “Deep Vein Thrombosis: A Hidden Risk of Being a Healthy, Active Cyclist

  1. I’ve had two DVT’s, with the second event in late 2013 resulting in bilateral pulmonary emboli (PE’s) to the extent that the radiologist asked, “How are you alive?” As a result, I’m on anticoagulants (“blood thinners”) for life. However, it hasn’t stopped me from racing, and since the clotting events I’ve upgraded to Cat. 3.

    My discharge instructions from the hospital after the PE were “Exercise: As tolerated.” So, of course, I got back on my bike as soon as I could. While the first few rides were awful, my lung capacity improved every day, and I believe that “getting the blood flowing” by doing aerobic exercise soon after the event helped my lungs to heal. Today, I have no lasting effects aside from needing to wear a calf sleeve on the leg with the worse DVT (which damaged the valves in my veins that prevent blood from pooling), having to take a pill daily, and doing a monthly self-administered blood test.

    Yes, there’s increased risk of bleeding if I crash, particularly if I hit my head and have a brain bleed. However, I’ve discussed with with my primary care physician and my hematologist, and we agree that the risks of activity while on anticoagulants are lower than the risk of another DVT / PE. Plus, I wear a RoadID indicating I take Warfarin, and my phone’s lock screen says the same thing. Warfarin is readily reversible with IV drugs, and it’s been used for decades (neither can be said about the new-generation anticoagulants out now).

    So, why did I suffer blood clots in the first place? Good question. I was tested for the known genetic factors, and all came back negative. All I can figure was that it was a combination of a torn calf muscle (one in 2012 from weightlifting, the other in 2013 from cyclocross), dehydration, and low resting heart rate. Both times, I had a calf that stayed sore for weeks until either my calf swelled or I had difficulty breathing (in the instance with the PE). I’m not sure what I could’ve done differently aside from not tearing a muscle, and I don’t know how I would’ve been diagnosed earlier (or thought to go to the doctor) until the really troubling symptoms started.

    I’m not going to tell people they should take low-dose aspirin, or wear compression socks, or fear long plane trips. I don’t know if any of these would really “prevent” DVT/PE in a healthy person. Just keep an eye on your body, and if you get an odd pain without some obvious explanation, ask your doctor about it. I blogged about my experiences at http://rice-engineer.blogspot.com/.

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