A venous thromboembolism is a blood clot that forms in a vein. Though they mainly happen to older people, anyone can experience this life-threatening and potentially recurring condition. A new study finds that, compared to their healthy peers, young patients have double the risk of using psychotropic drugs (suggesting they are struggling with their mental health) within five years of a venous thromboembolism diagnosis.

An estimated 300,000 lives are claimed each year by venous thromboembolism, which covers both deep vein thrombosis (often occurring in a deep leg vein) and pulmonary embolism (a blockage that prevents blood from reaching the lungs). While some people inherit the condition, others acquire it based on a wide variety of unlikely-seeming factors, including taking the pill (oral contraceptives), traveling by airplane, inflammatory bowel disease, smoking, surgery, and diabetes. An unexpected VTE, as it is known, can sneak up on an unsuspecting person no matter their age. Importantly, VTE is not the same as a blood clot in an artery (arterial thrombosis), which may lead to heart attack and stroke.

To investigate the mental health of young VTE patients, the researchers used data from four national databanks in Denmark, including birth and prescription registries. Having identified 4,132 patients between the ages of 13 and 33 diagnosed with a blood clot between 1997 and 2010, the researchers analyzed their medical histories and then compared them to 19,292 matched controls — same-aged people without a VTE diagnosis. The researchers used the purchase of a psychotropic drug, including antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills, and sedatives, as a proxy for mental health status. By comparing prescription drug patterns between the two groups, they would understand the emotional impact of a blood clot.

Analyzing the data, the researchers discovered the young blood clot patients were more likely to purchase psychotropic meds than their peers.

In fact, risk of a VTE patient purchasing psychotropic drugs following a diagnosis was 7.1 percent after one year and 22.1 percent after five years. Relative to others, blood clot patients had a 4.7 percent and 10.8 percent greater risk of purchasing psychotropic drugs after one year and five years, respectively.

This means “one in five VTE patients will experience mental health problems requiring psychotropic medication within the first five years after diagnosis,” said Arbjerg Højen, a nurse and doctoral student at Aalborg University Hospital in Denmark, stated in a press release. “That is more than double that of their peers.”

Most likely, patients struggle with fears of a recurrence, which could kill them. Because the study, which was presented at EuroHeartCare, looked at patient behavior over five years, the results suggest this is not just short-term panic. Interestingly, most of the drugs prescribed were antidepressants. Højen suggests blood clots be treated as a chronic condition with serious emotional consequences.

Naturally, some patients may want (or need) to address any persisting anxiety on their own. Help may be derived from a variety of natural sources, including friends and meditation.