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BLOG: November 2007

The silent killer: deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

The update on new official guidelines for assessing risk of DVT complications for each patient admitted in UK hospitals is: it isn't working well. According to the parliamentary Thrombosis group, only 1/3 of hospitals do follow the guidelines. The estimate is that in the last 7 months some 11,000 people have died, unnecessarily, as a result. The group wants DVT hospital guidelines to become mandatory (BBC News).

As disappointing as it is, the Britons are still well ahead of the U.S. in both, DVT awareness and official actions taken to confront this deadly, yet easily treatable disease. Some 200,000 to 300,000 thousands of Americans die each year from complications caused by DVT - usually pulmonary thrombosis - which makes DVT

deadlier than just about any other disease,
except cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

DVT risk factors are so numerous that it makes most of us potential victims.

Yet there is no coordinated official action of any kind to address this ongoing health-care disaster, and human tragedy. The irony is that it usually takes very simple measures, from avoiding prolonged seating, to taking anticoagulants, to drastically reduce the risk of clots forming in the large veins of your legs (most often), breaking into smaller clots and ending up clogging blood vessels in your lungs, brain, eyes, heart, or any organ or tissue you can think of. Nearly 1 in 3 of people affected with DVT dies if untreated, while with appropriate preventive treatment the death rate drops to about 1 in 20.

This means that simple measures taken to check out for DVT risk, and apply preventive measures, would have saved up to 250,000 thousands lives in the US, each and every year.

Surprisingly - not to use harsher, more appropriate words - medical establishment, too, remains rather uninterested. Even if your chances of developing DVT in a hospital are nearly 1 in 5, there is no nation-wide accepted - or even recommended - procedure to assess your risk, nor apply preventive measures. Sporadically, individual hospitals practice patient DVT assessment and appropriate follow-up, with good results, as expected, but in most cases you are on your own. Out of hospitals,

less than 10% of general practitioners ever checks or advises their patients about DVT in any form.

The problem is that DVT has no specific symptoms, but being aware of major risk factors, as well as possible warning signs, certainly can make difference. Beside hospital stays, major DVT risk factors are:

being over 40
  prolonged periods (hours) of immobility (seating in particular)
  dehydration, fatty meals
  genetic predisposition
  use of birth control pills, or
physical trauma to the leg.

There may be no symptoms at all, but warning signs include anything from soreness and swelling on your leg, lightheadedness and sweating,  to shortness of breath, chest pain or coughing up blood.

 You can find more on DVT on Melanie Bloom's site (The Coalition to prevent deep-vein thrombosis, at http://www.preventdvt.org ) .