Serena Williams has been making headlines as she beats out her opponents, including her older sister, Venus, at Wimbledon this year. This is Serena’s 15th time beating Venus out of the 26 times they have faced off. The sisters have been making history for years, but now it is Serena’s time to shine as she works her way towards the finish line. It’s hard to think that a few years ago, Serena felt like she was on her “death bed” when she developed a blood clot after a cross-country flight to see a doctor about her recent foot surgery. She was treated for a hematoma and pulmonary embolism (PE), which happens when a blood clot is in the lung.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms deep inside a vein. If part of the clot breaks off, it can travel into the lungs and block the flow of blood. This is a complication of DVT known as pulmonary embolism (PE), which can be fatal if it is not caught quickly. Luckily for Serena, she discovered the clot after a trip to New York to see a doctor about her foot injuries. After having two surgeries on her foot and traveling back and forth between Los Angeles and New York, her risk of developing DVT and PE significantly increased. Surgery can slow down your blood circulation more than usual and being immobile during the recovery period may have contributed to her clot.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 300,000 – 600,000 people develop blood clots annually. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood institute, there are about 100,000 cases of PE that are reported each year. You are more at risk of developing DVT if you have recently had a major surgery, sit or stand for long periods of time without moving around, or from increased amounts of estrogen in the body. Other factors include your family history, pregnancy, age, obesity, smoking or chronic medical illnesses such as heart disease, lung disease, cancer and its treatment.
Many athletes are at risk of developing DVT and PE, and in some cases, it can even be fatal. Jerome Kersey, a former forward for the Portland Trail Blazers also developed pulmonary embolism when a blood clot developed in his leg and traveled into his lung, later killing him. Miami Heat basketball player Chris Bosh also suffered from pulmonary embolism after a road trip with the team. The symptoms of PE include shortness of breath, sweating, anxiety, sharp chest pain, increased heart rate and coughing.
Why do athletes develop DVT when they are healthy and exercise? Between injuries, surgeries, long flights and tough work outs, athletes can be hard on their body. If you are dehydrated or have a low heart rate (a resting heart rate of less than 60 beats per minute), you are also more likely to develop a blood clot. When you are dehydrated, the plasma in your blood decreases, which makes your blood thicker and stickier.
Since her blood clot, Serena Williams has battled her way to becoming one of the most notorious female tennis players today. She has won 34 total grand slam titles, 67 singles titles, 5 Wimbledons, 4 Gold Medals and many more honors. Not even a life-threatening blood clot could stop her from achieving her dreams. If you have had a blood clot, DVT or PE, or you are at a higher risk of developing one, you can wear compression socks or sleeves to help prevent them. Compression socks increase circulation to reduce the chance of a blood clot forming. Wear them while you travel or while you work out to enhance performance, speed up the recovery time, reduce swelling and prevent injuries like shin splints.
About Serena Williams
DVT Facts, Prevention, Symptoms and Risk Factors
Are You At Risk For Varicose Veins?
My Pulmonary Embolism Story
Preventing Complications After Surgery
The Downside of Low Heart Rate: Athletes Who Get Blood Clots
The Risk Of Blood Clots On Long Flights
Health Lessons from Serena Williams's Pulmonary Embolism