Blood Clots: The Common Killer You Might Be Ignoring

January 7, 2016

Blood clots kill one in four people worldwide. That’s right, one in four deaths on this planet are caused by blood clots, also known by the medical term thrombosis. If you’re surprised by these blood clot facts, you’re not alone. A survey that I and others conducted with the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis steering committee of the United States, along with eight other countries from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, found that public awareness of thrombosis was low overall (at 68 percent), and for venous thromboembolism (VTE) in particular (at about 50 percent) — much lower than awareness of other health conditions.

Far more people surveyed were aware of high blood pressure, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and AIDS (90 percent, 85 percent, 82 percent, and 87 percent, respectively).

Only 45 percent of people who responded to the survey were aware that blood clots are preventable. Few knew the major risk factors for VTE, like hospitalization, surgery, and cancer (awareness of 25 percent, 36 percent, and 16 percent, respectively).

Thrombosis is the underlying cause of heart attack, most strokes, and venous thromboembolism (VTE), a condition in which blood clots form in the deep veins of the leg and can travel in the circulatory system to lodge in the lungs. VTE is often fatal, but it’s also preventable. Unfortunately, most patients who die from VTE do so suddenly, with little or no warning. Don’t miss signs and symptoms that could mean a dangerous blood clot: unexplained shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, rapid pulse, or coughing up blood.

VTE Is Surprisingly Common

Although about half of us haven’t heard of VTE, it’s a very common condition. Each year, VTE affects 1 to 3 out of every 1,000 people. Among those who are age 70 or older, this increases to between 2 and 7 per 1,000.

An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 people die from VTE each year in the United States, and more than 500,000 die each year in Europe. VTE causes more deaths each year in the United States and Europe than breast cancer, HIV disease, and motor vehicle crashes — combined.

According to a recent study by the World Health Organization and others, VTE associated with hospitalization was the leading cause of premature death, as well as years lived with disability, in low- and middle-income countries. And VTE was the second most common cause in high-income countries across the globe. VTE is responsible for more deaths and disability than hospital-associated pneumonia, catheter-related bloodstream infections, and adverse drug events.

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