29-year-old tennis star Serena Williams had an emergency procedure on Monday in Los Angeles for a hematoma. The hematoma was a result of a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs). The pulmonary embolism was discovered by doctors upon Williams’ return to Los Angeles last week.
She had been seeing doctors in New York on a continuing basis for foot injuries dating back to last July, when she stepped on broken glass during a trip to Munich. Williams was out Sunday evening at Elton John’s AIDS Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party just one day prior to her hospitalization. She is reportedly out of the hospital and recovering at home under the watchful eye of her doctors.
What is a Pulmonary Embolism?
According to MedicineNet.com, a pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in the artery leading to part of the lung. The blood clot cuts off the blood flow to the lungs and will cause the person suffering from it to experience shortness of breath and chest pains. Because the blood flow is restricted, a pulmonary embolism can also cause some of the lung tissue to die.
A pulmonary embolism is the result of deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that forms in the legs and can be the result of trauma to the lower leg. DVT becomes more dangerous when a piece of the clot in the leg breaks free and travels through the circulatory system, through the heart, and becomes lodged in the lung, forming a pulmonary embolism.
A pulmonary embolism is a very serious condition and needs prompt medical attention. In addition to shortness of breath and chest pain, a pulmonary embolism may cause anxiety or apprehension, a cough, sweating, and passing out.
Treatment and Recovery for a Pulmonary Embolism
The primary treatment for a pulmonary embolism is to place the patient on anticoagulants, or blood thinners. The blood thinners have to be carefully monitored by doctors in order to make sure the blood is not thinned out too much. Patients on blood thinners need to have regular blood tests by a doctor to monitor the effectiveness and dosage of the drug.
Anticoagulation therapy is typically suggested for patients for at least six months. A patient on blood thinners must be very careful to avoid any further injuries that may cause bleeding. Even a small surface cut or wound will cause an excessive amount of bleeding for a patient on anticoagulants.
The Outlook for Serena Williams
Williams is not the only athlete to suffer from a blood clot in the lungs this year. According to ESPN reports, hockey player Tomas Fleischman of the Colorado Avalanche was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism in January. Fleischman will miss the rest of the season for the Avalanche, a period of at least six months.
With the severity of the condition and type of treatment, it may be awhile before Serena Williams is competing on the courts again. Williams has already been sidelined since July while recovering from the injuries to her foot, and the most recent incident will cause her to miss even more time. The blood thinners Williams will be on can be very dangerous for a person in a profession that is prone to injuries. A surface cut or even a bruise can be damaging for someone on anticoagulants. A head injury to someone on blood thinners is an extremely dangerous proposition.
It will be months before Williams can start training again and even longer before she can compete at a high level. Hopefully Serena Williams will be smart in her approach and make a full and speedy recovery.
Benjamin C. Wedro, MD, FAAEM, Pulmonary Embolism, MedicineNet.com
Greg Garber, Serena’s Setback Raises Questions, espn.go.com