An Online Wellness Magazine produced by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)

The Thick of It

When it comes to blood clotting, too much is never a good thing

The Thick of It

When tennis star Serena Williams suffered a dangerous blood clot in her lung in 2011, many of her fans were surprised. How could someone so physically fit have a problem with blood circulation? 

Williams’ potentially fatal condition, called a pulmonary embolism, occurred when part of a blood clot in a vein (called deep vein thrombosis) broke off and traveled through the bloodstream and through the heart to the lungs, causing a blockage there. 

Pulmonary embolism is more common than Williams’ fans realized. Up to 100,000 people in the United States die each year from the condition, according to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 

Immobility can cause blood flow in the veins to slow down. A major risk for developing blood clots is lack of movement for an extended time, because of illness, surgery or a long plane trip. Studies have shown that the longer a plane flight, the higher the risk of blood clots, says John Higgins, M.D., associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School and chief of cardiology at Harris Health Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital.

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