- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Far too many Americans are dying of dangerous blood clots that can masquerade as simple leg pain, says a major new government effort to get patients and their doctors to recognize the emergency in time.

“It’s a silent killer. It’s hard to diagnose,” said acting Surgeon General Dr. Steven Galson. “I don’t think most people understand that this is a serious medical problem or what can be done to prevent it.”

At issue are clots with cumbersome names: A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) forms in large veins, usually a leg or the groin. It can kill quickly if it moves up to the lungs, where it goes by the name pulmonary embolism (PE).

These clots make headlines every few years when seemingly healthy people collapse after long airplane flights or being in similarly cramped quarters.

But that provides a skewed vision of the problem. While there aren’t good statistics, the new surgeon general’s campaign estimates that every year between 350,000 and 600,000 Americans get one of these clots - and at least 100,000 of them die.

There are a host of risk factors and triggers: recent surgery or a broken bone; a fall or car crash; pregnancy or taking birth control pills or menopause hormones; being immobile for long periods.

The risk rises with age, especially over 65, and among people who smoke or are obese.

And some people have genetic conditions that cause no other symptoms but increase their risk, making it vital to tell your doctor if a relative has ever suffered a blood clot.

People with those factors should have “a very low threshold” for calling a doctor or even going to the emergency room if they have symptoms of a clot, said Dr. Galson, who issued a “call to action” for better education of both consumers and doctors, plus more research.

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