Have you ever had leg pain and immediately blamed your low back? Me too! Many patients (and unfortunately, many doctors) conclude this to be “sciatica” or a “pinched nerve.” When this diagnosis is wrong, it can lead to an inappropriate type of treatment, delaying appropriate care, or worse, it may result in death due to a missed diagnosis of a blood clot. There is currently a government campaign seeking to warn the public about this hard-to-diagnose 'silent killer.'
Here’s the news flash that was recently released (updated 8:28 a.m. CT, Mon., Sept. 15, 2008): “WASHINGTON - 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 both 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, who announced the new campaign Monday. "I don't think most people understand that this is a serious medical problem or what can be done to prevent it."
Blood clots make headlines when seemingly healthy people collapse after prolonged sitting, such as long airplane flights or being in similarly cramped quarters. Vice President Cheney suffered one after a long trip last year. NBC correspondent David Bloom died of one in 2003 after spending days inside a tank while covering the Iraq invasion.
According to the Surgeon General’s new campaign, there are about 100,000 deaths associated with blood clots each year. Risk factors include increasing age (especially over 65), recent surgery or fracture, falls, car crashes, prolonged bed rest, smokers, obesity, pregnancy, and hormone replacement drugs including birth control pills. Other less controllable causes can include genetic conditions so it is important to tell your doctor if a relative has ever suffered a blood clot.
People with these 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 Galson, who issued a "call to action" for better education of both consumers and doctors, plus more research.
Symptoms include swelling; pain, especially in the calf; or a warm spot or red or discolored skin on the leg; shortness of breath or pain when breathing deeply. Unfortunately, studies suggest only a third of patients who need protective blood thinners for major surgery get them. And patients can even be turned away despite telltale symptoms, like what happened to Le Keisha Ruffin just weeks after the birth of her daughter, Caitlyn. In her case, after being turned down by several visits to the doctor and ER, only after a very hot bath did her leg swell to 3-4 times its normal size, tipping off the doctors to make the right diagnosis.
Don’t wait for your medical doctor or our office to make the diagnosis if you’re suspicious of a blood clot. Ask us if it’s a possibility. Rest assured that we have been properly trained to diagnose this condition and we work with other health care providers when needed.