According to her agents, tennis star Serena Williams was recently treated for a pulmonary embolism and a subsequent hematoma. According to Williams’ spokeswoman Nicole Chabot, Williams had “emergency treatment” for a hematoma that likely resulted from treatment of the pulmonary embolism. Williams has been out of tennis for the most part since July 2010 due to a foot injury. She reportedly cut her foot on broken glass and required two operations.
A pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening emergency where a blood clot travels to the lungs, usually originating from a blood clot in the thigh. Blood clots are unusual in healthy young athletes, but risk factors such as birth control pills, immobility after recent surgeries, prolonged travel by car or airplane, and history of blood clotting disorder could increase the chances. It is hard to know what, if any, risk factors Williams would have.
The treatment for a pulmonary embolism is an anticoagulation medication, or blood thinner. The blood thinner likely contributed to her hematoma. A hematoma is a collection of blood that often requires drainage, even as a surgical procedure. The drainage of the hematoma is likely the “emergency treatment” that Williams underwent Monday.
To try to dissolve the blood clots in her lungs and prevent further clots, Williams likely will be on blood thinners for 6 to 12 months. What will be interesting to see is whether the doctors treating her embolism will allow her to play competitive tennis during these months. The medications would not interfere with her ability to play, but they could be dangerous if Williams were to suffer an injury. For example, if she strained a muscle or suffered a bad ankle sprain, the blood thinners could cause a hematoma to develop once again. Even more concerning would be if she had a seemingly mild head or abdominal injury and subsequently developed bleeding around her brain or inside her abdomen. I don’t want to sound dramatic, but I expect that there will be some controversy among media members and doctors alike about whether she should play.
On a personal note, as tournament physician of the Family Circle Cup, I would like to extend my sincere wishes for a speedy and complete recovery on behalf of the tennis fans of Charleston. Serena has probably been the most popular player here at the Family Circle Cup, and we will all miss her this year. I’m sure we all hope that she makes it back to play here very soon.