August 4, 2010
Ultrasound scanning devices at Martha Jefferson Hospital search for signs of a widespread disease that 600,000 people will develop this year. Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT) is caused by a blood clot in the veins usually found in the leg.
"Symptoms of DVT can be subtle. Any time you have an unusual discomfort in the leg, abnormal swelling, particularly in the calf, any heaviness in the leg, especially when it's one leg versus the other leg, then you should probably be at least thinking that there could be a blood clot," said Dr. Pradeep Rajagopalan, an Interventional Radiologist at Martha Jefferson Hospital.
Clots can form when the blood flow becomes sluggish, which can happen when people are immobile for an extended period of time. Examples include long flights and car rides or recovery time after coming out of major surgery.
"It can be life threatening and develop Pulmonary Embolism (PE). These clots can break off and go to your lungs," said Dr. Lewis Owens, a Vascular Surgeon at Martha Jefferson.
Obesity, smoking and age are also risk factors for developing DVT, but if caught early, blood thinners can treat the clot. A new technology called "Trellis" allows doctors to isolate and dissolve the clot.
"We put a tube into the vein, and you have an oscillating wire that actually helps break up the blood clot. Plus, you infuse the medicine at the same time," said Dr. Rajagopalan.
Most patients who develop a blood clot will cope with symptoms for months or years down the road, which is why two out of three people with DVT will develop a chronic form of the disease.
"People develop these long-term, very difficult problems that are basically incurable. There is no cure for them; all you can provide is supportive care," said Dr. Owens.
Doctors say DVT is one of the most preventable diseases because of the technologies that are available. Also, moving around during that long flight or car ride can help get past any block in your veins down the road.