We know from the World Health Organisation that thrombosis (a blood clot in a blood vessel) are very common and conditions related to them cause one in four deaths worldwide. While you might know all about blood clots in coronary arteries (heart attack) and blood clots in brain arteries (stroke), much less recognised are blood clots in veins (deep vein thromboses), which can break off and travel through the body to block the blood supply to part, or all of the lungs (pulmonary embolism). These two together-- deep vein thromboses and pulmonary emboli--are known as venous thromboembolism (VTE) or blood clots for short. This is a potentially deadly medical condition that claims about 544,000 lives in Europe every year and costs the NHS approximately £640 million annually in the UK.
These blood clots causes more deaths each year in the United States and Europe than breast cancer, HIV, and motor vehicle crashes -- combined. But thankfully there is a lot we can do individually to prevent them. The majority are preventable. That is why it is important to know if you are at risk and learn what you can do to help keep life flowing.
Thrombosis can affect anyone, regardless of their age, gender or ethnicity. Even those who are young and active can be susceptible to blood clots. However, there are steps that you can take to protect your health:
- Understand the risk factors. Although thrombosis can affect anyone, because blood becomes stickier with aging, the risks of blood clots increase too. Blood also becomes stickier during pregnancy and even now in 2016, blood clots remain a major cause of problems and death in pregnancy. Being overweight, using the combined oral contraceptive pill, hormone replacement therapy and smoking are also risk factors. Being immobile also increases the risk and we recognise "e-thrombosis" in city works and gamers, who sit immobile at a PC for long periods of time.
- The number one cause of clots is hospital admission, whether for surgical or non- surgical. About 55 percent of all VTE cases are hospital-associated, meaning that clots occur during admission and up to 90 days after discharge. This makes VTE the leading cause of preventable hospital deaths. Every year, an estimated 25,000 people in the UK would die from a thrombosis contracted in hospital if no preventative measures were taken by the hospital. Luckily, for those living in England, NHS England leads the world in preventing hospital-associated thrombosis as there is a system in place to ensure prevention with blood thinners and/or stockings are mandated in all adult in-patients who are at risk. Cancer patients are particularly at risk, especially as some cancer treatments make blood stickier: indeed 10 percent of cancer patients have a clot at some point in their illness.
- Be proactive: ask your hospital doctor for a risk assessment. If you are admitted to the hospital, or if you are having surgery, ask your doctor for a VTE risk assessment. Also ask whether you may be a candidate for preventive methods.
- Know the signs and symptoms. The most common symptom of DVT is pain alone. A minority of DVT also have tenderness in the calf or thigh, swelling of the leg, foot or ankle, redness or noticeable discoloration, and warmth. People with a clot in the lung--a PE - may experience shortness of breath, rapid breathing, chest pain, rapid heart rate, lightheadedness and/or even pass out.
- Take action. If you experience any of these signs or symptoms, seek medical attention immediately, even if you do not have any known risk factors.
Blood clots are a common medical condition; however, most people remain unaware. By bringing together patients, doctors, nurses and other healthcare officials, we can raise awareness and help prevent and combat this growing health crisis.
In order to address this important health issue, the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH) created a global movement called World Thrombosis Day that culminates on 13 October to increase global awareness of the often overlooked and misunderstood condition of thrombosis. For more information, visit worldthrombosisday.org.
Beverley Hunt, MD, is a Professor of Thrombosis and Haemostasis at King's College London and a Consultant at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospitals, running a Thrombosis unit and working in hematology, pathology and rheumatology. She is a national and international expert in thrombosis and acquired bleeding disorders. She founded Thrombosis UK, which successfully campaigned to ensure all patients in English hospitals receive adequate thromboprophylaxis, and is working with the Welsh and Scottish health departments to do the same. She currently serves as a member of the World Thrombosis Day Steering Committee.