Sarah Rogers

Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

Ottawa tattoo artist Sarah Rogers thought she’d pulled a muscle when her right leg started hurting in 2011. But instead of going away, the pain got worse.

After feeling dizzy on the way to work, she went to the emergency department, where she learned her leg had a blood clot, known as venous thromboembolism. Then she was referred to The Ottawa Hospital’s thrombosis clinic for treatment.

“It was so disconcerting—there was nothing I did to make it happen,” said the 38-year-old.

About half of venous thromboembolism cases are like Rogers’, and happen for no apparent reason. The clots can be life-threatening if they travel to the lungs, so guidelines suggest that patients take blood thinners for the rest of their lives to prevent future clots.

But blood thinners come with challenges, including an increased risk of major bleeding. Like most patients, Rogers was on warfarin, which interacts with leafy greens. This meant she couldn’t eat as much kale, broccoli and spinach as she would have liked. She also had to go into the hospital once a week to check her dose of medication.

“If my blood was too thin, I felt lightheaded. If I wasn’t taking enough blood thinner, I would have pains in my leg,” she said.

However, after her clot was treated, Rogers was able to safely stop taking warfarin, thanks to a study led by Dr. Marc Rodger. His team developed a simple rule that identifies women who are at low risk of having a second blood clot, and can therefore stop taking blood thinners.

“We see two to three patients with unexplained blood clots every day at The Ottawa Hospital,” said Dr. Rodger, senior scientist and thrombosis specialist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. “If this rule was applied across Canada, we estimate that over 10,000 women a year would be able to come off blood thinners.”

Today Rogers is happy to be blood clot and blood thinner free.

“It was absolutely wonderful to get off the blood thinners, as much as the treatment was necessary in the short term,” she said. “I could not wait to eat a giant bowl of kale salad.”