Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital February 4, 2014
What do long trips, surgery, and pregnancy have in common? They all increase risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a serious condition affecting between one and two million Americans each year. Other risk factors for DVT include obesity, smoking, oral contraceptive use, cancer, being sedentary, and injury or illness.
DVT is a blood clot that develops in a deep vein in the body, typically in the pelvis, thigh, or lower leg. It often has no symptoms, though it sometimes causes pain, heat, or swelling at the site of the clot. The most serious complication from DVT is pulmonary embolism (PE). For patients stricken by PE, the DVT clot breaks off from the wall of the deep vein, enters the bloodstream, and travels to the lungs, blocking blood flow and causing severe shortness of breath and chest pain. PE can lead to heart failure and to serious kidney and liver damage. It can be fatal.
“PE accounts for 100,000 to 200,000 deaths per year in the United States alone,” says Dr. Samuel Z. Goldhaber, director of the Thrombosis Research Group at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and founder of the North American Thrombosis Forum (NATF). “The good news is that DVT and PE can be treated, if recognized early, and risks can be minimized to prevent these conditions.”
Dedicated to advancing awareness, prevention, and treatment of DVT and PE, Dr. Goldhaber led the development and study of a computerized alert system that has been shown to dramatically reduce DVT and PE in hospitalized patients at high risk for these conditions. This system is now in place at BWH and many other hospitals worldwide. He also has led the investigation of new treatments for DVT, including novel clot preventing (anticoagulation) medications and innovative minimally invasive procedures to remove large DVT and PE.
“The first step in preventing DVT and PE is to understand your risks,” says Dr. Gregory Piazza, a cardiovascular medicine specialist in the BWH Cardiovascular Medicine Division, faculty member in the Thrombosis Research Group, and Education Chair of the North American Thrombosis Forum.
NATF offers an online screening tool to assess individual risk of DVT and PE. Dr. Piazza also notes that people at high risk for DVT and PE, including a history of these conditions, should see a vascular medicine specialist. “We can help prevent DVT and PE with medications and lifestyle modification recommendations, as well as provide advanced interventions for those who develop these conditions.”
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