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Following the news that under-30s in the UK will be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca Covid jab and that some countries have suspended its use entirely over fears it can cause blood clots, Google searches on the condition have surged.
But experts, including the World Health Organisation, reassure us the vaccine is safe.
To put things into perspective, at the time of writing, out of 17 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot delivered, just 37 cases of potentially serious blood clots have been reported in Europe.
Also, most of the 18 countries that suspended its use have since reinstated it, although investigations are ongoing.
But as concerns persist, we asked Dr Paul Ettlinger, GP at The London General Practice, to give us the lowdown on a health condition that can often go undetected until it becomes an emergency.
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What are blood clots, Dr Ettlinger?
"A clot is when the body turns liquefied blood into solid blood to stop a cut from bleeding. The clot is usually then broken down, but sometimes you might get persistent clots, such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or a pulmonary embolism (PE) when the clot travels to the lung. Both can be very serious if not caught and treated in time."
What are the tell-tale signs?
"A DVT is usually found in the leg, so look out for a painful throbbing and swelling in the calf, often after a period of immobility – that's why long-haul flights can be a cause. Breathlessness, particularly a sudden acute onset, and chest pain on breathing, can be signs that a clot has broken off and entered the lung. Severe migraines too can be a potential warning."
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Who's at risk?
"There are lots of hereditary clotting disorders, including haemophilia, where the blood is too thin to clot. Also congenital disorders, where it's too thick to clot. If you know you have a family history, you may be on preventative medication. Most people don't know they're at risk.
If you're obese, bedridden post-op, have very prominent varicose veins, have suffered an accident, are pregnant or on an oestrogen oral contraceptive pill, you may be at increased risk, too."
Are they always fatal?
"No. They can be, but they're very treatable if caught in time. We even treat them at the GP practice now with anticoagulant tablets."
How can I protect myself?
"Support stockings compress the veins in the legs and prevent blood pooling and causing a clot. Anticoagulants, which thin the blood, can be prescribed by your GP. Maintain a healthy weight, keep moving and stay well hydrated. There's evidence that turmeric, garlic and vitamin E can be helpful in preventing clots, but the scientific research is lacking."
Should I fear the vaccine if I'm over 30?
"No. There are more DVT and PE cases in people who didn't have the vaccine than in those who did. More than 501 million doses have been given across 140 countries and these thrombosis incidents are very, very rare."
It happened to me
'The pain of walking made me cry’
When OK!’s lifestyle director Emma Jones felt a pain in her back she had no idea what her body had in store for her
‘Back in 2018 I was excited to be moving into my own flat. However, come move-in day,I couldn’t drag any furniture around as I’d woken up with a really sharp pain in my lower back. The GP diagnosed sciatica and prescribed painkillers.
A few weeks later, I was on a flight to Greece and feeling slightly better. But by the time the plane landed my right leg was killing me. After five days on holiday I could barely walk and limped back to the airport, assuming I’d trapped a nerve.
Friends recommended acupuncture, and by then I was ready to try anything. It did nothing to help, but the treatment appeared to kickstart something in my bloodstream as the next day I woke up with my leg hugely swollen. By lunchtime my ankle had doubled in size and I couldn’t even get my shoe on.
After a long wait in A&E, I was told I had a large DVT behind my knee which had caused a blood clot to travel up to my lungs. The doctor said it could have been a lot worse, but the booze I was guzzling on holiday had helped thin my blood! I was prescribed two weeks’ worth of anticoagulant to inject with a needle into my tummy every day.
I also took blood-thinning tablets for three months and antibiotics to treat a severe chest infection caused by the clot.The pain was unbearable for the first fortnight and I’d cry as I hobbled to the kitchen to get a glass of water. But before long I was walking around freely again. The only noticeable side effect was horrific periods – blood thinners play havoc with your menstrual cycle.
It took six months for the clot to go completely. The doctor said it may have been forming for many years, but the flight possibly activated it. DVTs are easy to treat, but don’t turn to DoctorGoogle to diagnose yourself likeI did – a quick trip to the doctor could potentially save your life.'
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