Every generation must learn anew about the seemingly capricious nature of blood clots.
For me, the lesson was driven home by the sudden and shocking 2003 death of NBC correspondent David Bloom — who died at age 39 after developing a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) while covering the war in Iraq.
Now, for the millennial generation, Miami Heat star Chris Bosh’s battle with blood clots has unquestionably made him the face of this mysterious, confounding —and often misdiagnosed —condition.
For the second consecutive year, Bosh, 32, had his season cut short because of a recurrent issue with blood clots.
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When it happened to him in 2015, he developed a potentially life-threatening pulmonary embolism (PE). This necessitated that he be put on a regimen of anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medication – and avoid all contact-related aspects of basketball for six months.
Prior to the 2015-16 season, Bosh said extensive testing didn’t reveal any hereditary issues that would make him more susceptible to developing another clot. Likely, that means he tested negative for a condition known as Factor V Leiden, as well as for the prothrombin gene mutation, and a host of other hematological conditions associated with elevated risk.
Nonetheless, re-occurrences are fairly common in people who develop “idiopathic” blood clots (those that have no known definitive cause – such as hereditary factors, illness, injury, surgery, immobility, etc.).
In fact, according to the National Institute of Health, some 30 percent of people who develop “spontaneous” DVT/PE experience a recurrence within a decade —with the most likely period being in the first two years after diagnosis. Bosh’s second DVT was detected in February — exactly a year after his first one.
As Heat President Pat Riley recently explained, Bosh’s athletic future is now uncertain – although the two-time NBA champion is determined to play again.
Other blood clot risk factors
Simply being so tall (Bosh is 6 feet, 11 inches) and traveling on planes so often puts Bosh — as well as most NBA players — at greater risk for this kind of condition (long periods of immobility increase the likelihood of blood clots). Considering the strenuous, high-blood-clot-risk lifestyles they lead, that it doesn’t happen more frequently is actually surprising.
Even more alarming for competitive athletes of all ages is that the symptoms of blood clots are often misinterpreted by doctors (during Bosh’s first episode in 2015, he was mistakenly thought to have suffered a slow-healing rib injury).
As the National Blood Clot Alliance notes on its website “health-care providers often interpret the leg symptoms from DVTs as ‘muscle tear,' a ‘Charlie horse,' a ‘twisted ankle,' or shin splints. Chest symptoms from PE are often attributed to a pulled muscle, bronchitis, asthma, or a ‘touch of pneumonia.’”
And female athletes often deal with an additional complication: Studies have shown that those who take estrogen-based birth control pills are at increased risk for developing blood clots in their veins (venous thromboembolism – or VTE).