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Preventing Risk: Pulmonary Embolism, Heart Attack, and Stroke

How can you help protect yourself against clotting disorders?

The best news is that your risk for all of these life-threatening conditions can be decreased significantly with the same steps! Some of the steps are simple, like knowing symptoms so you can get help if needed. Others, like diet and exercise, are a little harder. Knowing what to do to limit risk is the most important step. For things that require more time, take steps one-by-one, knowing that each step has many benefits.

  1. Diet & exercise: Being overweight is a large risk factor for clotting disorders. Find the solutions that work for you, to begin to eat a healthy diet and to have some regular exercise.
  2. If you smoke, find a way to stop.
  3. Be aware of the symptoms: Know what to look out for, especially if you have increased risk of clotting such as taking birth control pills, pregnancy, or in one place for an extended period of time like overseas travel (see below).
  4. Move around: If you are taking a long flight or drive, get up and walk around; keep the blood moving through your veins.
  5. Limit your risk factors: Having one risk factor is dangerous enough; having multiple risk factors greatly increases your risk of clotting disorders.

What are the symptoms?

Deep vein thrombosis

  • Swelling in the leg, ankle, or foot
  • Pain in the leg, ankle, or foot (this may feel like cramping or a charley horse)
  • Warmth in the affected area
  • Changes in the color of your skin (pale, red, or blue)

Pulmonary embolism

  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Sharp chest pain while coughing or breathing deeply
  • A cough accompanied by pink, foamy mucus
  • Pain, numbness, tingling, and coldness

Heart Attack

  • Chest discomfort
  • Other discomfort in the upper body
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness


  • Numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg (especially if it is only on one side of the body)
  • Confusion
  • Troubling speaking or understanding
  • Vision problems in one or both eyes
  • Difficulty walking
  • Dizziness; loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause

For more information:

Go to the Blood and the Body health topic.