Footballer warns of dry cough that turned out to be deadly blood clot

British Heart Foundation: Understanding blood clots

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In September 2019, Hollie Olding was 20 and jet-setting around the US to play University football when she developed a nasty dry cough. She continued playing, unaware the cough was the warning sign of a horrific blood clot. Olding spoke to about her ordeal and warned about the different symptoms she experienced.

Olding said: “In July of 2019 I started to get a strange pain in my groin. It felt like pins and needles and a tingle at times but then over time, I stopped feeling this.

“In September 2019 I had a dry cough… It was only a dry cough at the start and then began to become quite violent.”

Her cough progressed to the point where she was coughing up blood. She first noticed the blood the morning after a return flight from South Carolina to Pittsburgh, where she went to university.

Olding went to the hospital but the doctors believed she was “too young and healthy” to have a clot in her lungs, Olding said. The doctors misdiagnosed her with pneumonia and sent her off with antibiotics.

She added: “The next day there was blood in my stool and then I was rushed again to the Emergency Room where I had a CT scan which lead to my diagnosis of PE [pulmonary embolism].”

“I was extremely scared. I was studying for my degree at the University of Pittsburgh at the time and I was thousands of miles away from my mum and dad. My first initial thought was am I going to be okay? I was in a state of shock and I don’t really remember any clear thoughts running through my head.”

Blood clots can be protective, helping to prevent excessive bleeding if a blood vessel gets cut.

But sometimes they clot in “places they shouldn’t” and can prevent blood from flowing around the body, explains Professor Beverley Hunt, a thrombosis expert at King’s College London and founder of the charity Thrombosis UK.

In some cases, such as Olding’s, the clot can break off and travel around the body. Professor Beverley explained: “It can pass through the heart and block a pulmonary artery, cutting off the blood supply to part or all of the lungs; this is called a pulmonary embolism (PE).”

Doctors now believe that it was caused by her regular flying while on the contraceptive pill.

The American Society of Hematology explains: “Blood clots can sometimes form in your legs during air travel because you are immobile for long periods of time, often sitting in cramped spaces with little leg room.

“The clinical term for this type of blood clot is deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The longer the flight, the more at risk you are for developing a clot.”

Professor Beverley also explains that women are also more at risk of developing a blood clot when they use the combined oral contraceptive pill or oral hormone replacement therapy.

She said: “Women have periods in their lives where they are at increased risk of developing a clot, for example, if they use the combined oral contraceptive pill or oral hormone replacement therapy, during pregnancy, and six weeks postpartum.

“However, in general, men are more likely to develop blood clots – and when they have a clot, they are more likely to get a recurrence than women. Regardless of sex, if you are obese, or over the age of 60, you are also at increased risk.”

Olding has fully recovered and is careful when traveling between football games.

She said: “I take a small daily dose of Aspirin and that’s all I do really. Obviously for my job it means I exercise all the time. When I’m travelling whether that be in the car, on a coach, or on a plane I will also wear compression leggings to help circulation.”

Symptoms of a blood clot

Coughing blood is actually a rare sign of a blood pulmonary embolism or blood clot, according to Professor Beverley.

Some symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include the following, she explained:

  • Sudden or gradual shortness of breath
  • Chest pain when breathing in
  • Feeling sweaty and unwell, suddenly.

However, she warns that pulmonary embolisms can “cause almost any respiratory symptom”.

The prof added: “It’s crucial that medical professionals and the public are aware of the signs, symptoms, and risk factors to look out for. “

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