Too many Americans are dying from dangerous blood clots that can masquerade as leg pain, says a new government initiative aimed at getting both patients and their physicians to recognize the emergency in time, since it is extremely difficult to diagnose.
The warning involves deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which forms in large veins usually in the leg or groin. It can kill quickly if it moves up to the lungs where it is then called a pulmonary embolism. Symptoms for a blood clot include swelling, pain (especially in the calf), a warm spot or red or discolored skin on the leg and shortness of breath or pain when breathing deeply.
Not only are patients ill-informed, doctors are as well. For example, a third of the patients that are supposed to receive protective blood thinners when they enter the hospital for a major surgery do not get them. In addition to the new campaign, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is issuing a twelve-page booklet to help consumers tell if they are at risk for DVTs and what to do, along with a sixty page DVT treatment-and-prevention guide for doctors and hospitals. Also, starting October 1, Medicare will withhold payment from hospitals if patients develop clots after knee- or hip-replacement surgery.
There are many different risk factors and triggers for blood clots such as a recent surgery, a broken bone, a car accident, immobility, pregnancy, etc… The risk rises as you age, especially in patients over 65, and among people who are overweight or smoke. It is also imperative that people with a family history of blood clots tell their doctors, since this may signal a genetic predisposition.
Blood clots make headlines when seemingly healthy people collapse after enduring cramped quarters on airplane rides and other similar situations. The surgeon general announced between 350,000 and 600,000 Americans get one of these clots annually, and at least 100,000 of them die. With the new campaign, many are hopeful that DVT will get the same spotlight that cigarette smoking did in the 1960s.