My 22-year-old sister Brianne Grimm was feeling under the weather. She was coughing quite a bit, but so were the rest of us. She rode it out as long as she could, but then the shortness of breath came and the muscle spasms and leg pain.

She went to the doctor and they advised she had bronchitis and put her on antibiotics. She didn’t improve, went back to the doctor and was advised that it was most likely an asthmatic bronchitis and was given some prednisone and inhalers. The prednisone caused her heart to race and she experienced such chest/back pains she couldn’t stand to take it.

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After a few days she went back to the doctor and said, “Something is wrong, I can’t breathe.” She couldn’t walk down the hallway without being so winded. The doctor brushed it off as panic attacks and side effects to the prednisone that would subside in a few days. Her oxygen was low, her blood pressure was quite elevated and her pulse was really elevated. They sent her home.

Brianne went to the doctor three times in total. She was frustrated and wanted relief, wanted someone to take her seriously.

Three days later she died at her home of pulmonary embolism.

If only we would have known the risks and symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (DTV) and pulmonary embolism (PE), we could have advocated her care. Not only do we need more education for ourselves to become our own advocates, but we need our physicians to become more educated on this issue. A young life is gone and this story happens all too often.

So, you ask, what is a DVT, what is a PE and am I at risk?

DVTS, PE and blood clots are something not many of us are really educated on. It is something that happens and causes 100,000-300,000 deaths per year, which is greater than the total number of people who lose their lives to AIDS, breast cancer, and motor vehicle crashes combined! More than 600,000 non-fatal cases of deadly blood clots occur each year; 40 percent of those are in the lungs and 60 percent are in the legs.

On average one person dies every six minutes from a blood clot. If you understand the risks and know the signs and symptoms, you’re more likely to get the help you need before it becomes fatal. Our family wishes we knew the signs, symptoms and risks before it became fatal to my young sister. We were not educated; we had no idea that someone so young and healthy could get a DVT or PEs.  

RISK FACTORS

  • Hospitalization for illness or surgery;

  • Severe trauma, such as a car accident;

  • Injury to a vein;

  • Cancer and cancer treatments;

  • Use of birth control methods that contain estrogen or estrogen hormone replacement therapy;

  • Pregnancy, which includes the six weeks after the baby is born;

  • A family history of blood clots; and

  • Confinement to bed, sitting too long, especially with legs crossed.

The next important thing to know is the signs and symptoms, they can resemble so many things that they can go unknown by you and your family. They also can be misdiagnosed by healthcare providers.

DEEP VEIN THROMBOSIS (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins of your body, usually in your legs, but sometimes in your arm.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Swelling, usually in one leg (or arm);

  • Leg pain or tenderness often described as a cramp or charley horse;

  • Reddish or bluish skin discoloration; and

  • Leg (or arm) warm to touch.

PULMONARY EMBOLISM (PE) is when a clot breaks off from a DVT and travels to the lung, causing a PE, which can be fatal.

Signs and Symptoms include:

  • Sudden shortness of breath (the pain is classically sharp and worsens when taking a deep breath);

  • Chest pain that is sharp, stabbing, that may get worse with deep breath;

  • Rapid heart rate; and

  • Unexplained cough, sometimes with bloody mucus.

Blood clots, DVTs and PEs can be treated if you seek medical care as soon as possible.

With cold season, sometimes it’s tough to distinguish some of the symptoms as being more than just a cough related to the common crud going around.

Typically a chest examination is often normal, chest X-rays are often normal, signs may be tough to notice as it’s a deep vein clot. A lab test called a D-dimer can be run to measure one of the breakdown products of a blood clot. If it is normal, chances of having a clot is really low; if it is positive, they often send you for a CT scan with contrast.

If a clot, DVT or PE is found, it is critical to seek treatment quickly, and the outcome will be far better. Most are treated with blood thinners, but there are numerous things to consider for treatment options. Share with your family and friends so that everyone is aware. It happens to anyone - athletes, children, elderly, any age, sex or race are at risk and affected.

Brianna’s sister Tricia Rodenborg of Askov wrote this piece because she wanted to make sure other families don’t have to go through the same tragedy. Brianna died Nov. 24, 2014, an otherwise perfectly healthy 22-year-old woman.