Blood Clots Deemed Deadly by Doctors


“It’s a silent killer. It’s hard to diagnose,” stated current
Surgeon General Dr. Steven Galson. He revealed a new campaign Monday, Sept. 15
concerning dangerous blood clots that have killed many Americans. These blood
clots are often masked as merely leg pain. 

A deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, develops in large veins,
generally a leg or the groin. It can quickly kill if it travels up to the
lungs, where it goes by the name pulmonary embolism, or PE. These clots make
headlines every few years when outwardly healthy individuals collapse after
long airplane flights or being in confined places. Vice President Cheney
endured one after a long trip last year. NBC correspondent David Bloom died of
one in 2003 after spending days inside a tank while covering the invasion of Iraq.

Each year 350,000 to 600,000 Americans get one of these
clots according to the new surgeon general’s campaign. At least 100,000 die
from them. Risk factors and triggers for these clots involve: recent surgery or
a broken bone; a fall or car crash; pregnancy, taking birth control pills, or
menopause hormones; and being immobile for long periods of time.  These risks increase with age, especially
over 65, as well as among those who smoke or are obese. Some individuals have
genetic conditions that cause no other symptoms but increase their risk, making
it vital to inform your doctor if a relative has ever suffered a blood clot. Symptoms
include swelling, pain, particularly in the calf, or a warm or red or even
discolored skin on the leg, shortness of breath or pain when breathing deeply.

The problem is that doctors are ill-informed too. Studies
suggest about a third of patients who need protective blood thinners when they
enter the hospital for major surgery do not receive them. Patients have even
been turned away despite reporting symptoms, like Le Keisha Ruffin. Ruffin went
to the hospital repeatedly following the birth of her daughter, reporting that
she had growing pain in her leg and groin in December 2003 and January 2004.
She was told it must be her healing Caesarean section scar. One night Ruffin’s
husband drew a hot bath for pain relief, only to have his wife get out minutes
later. Her leg was swollen three to four times its normal size and then she passed

“I like to call that my miracle bath,” Ruffin said, the
sudden swelling tipped off the doctors. Pieces of a giant clot in her right leg
had broken off and floated into her lung. 
The ER doctor told Ruffin if she had not made it when she did that she
may not have lived through the night.

Due to the surgeon general’s campaign, “DVT after all these
years will finally get the national spotlight like cigarette smoking did in the
mid-60’s,” said Dr. Samuel Goldhaber, chairman of Venous Disease Coalition and
a cardiologist at Boston‘s
Brigham & Woman’s Hospital.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is issuing a
12-page booklet to help consumers tell if they are at risk for DVTs and what to
do, as well as a 60-page DVT treatment and prevention guide for hospitals and
doctors. Starting Oct. 1, as prevention and incentive, Medicare will withhold
payment from hospitals when patients develop the clots after knee or hip
replacement surgery.