"This study is a fairly simple concept," says Dr. Vincent J.B. Robinson, nuclear cardiologist at MCG and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Augusta and lead author of a study in the February issue of CHEST detailing how clot-busting drugs such as tPA, already used to treat strokes and heart attacks, may help find clots as well.
When patients go to their doctor with symptoms such as swollen legs with tender spots, shortness of breath or passing out, they may get a simple blood test called the latex d-dimer, says Dr. Robinson.
The d-dimer test is a screening test that checks the blood for evidence that the body is trying to break down a clot. The body forms blood clots, impermeable masses of elastic fibrin and platelets and other cells, to stop bleeding. But clots also can form for no apparent good reason, particularly in areas such as the legs where blood pools.
"It's just how we are built; dependency and immobility shifts the balance to clotting inside our veins," says Dr. Robinson. This risk is the main reason flight attendants remind passengers to stretch their legs on long flights and hospitals put intermittent inflatable devices on the legs of bedridden patients. Some people have an inherited predisposition to forms these clots, a condition called thrombophilia.
Each year, 250,000 hospitalizations and 200,000 deaths in the United States result from these clots moving to the lungs, where they can prevent sufficient oxygen from getting to the body, the researchers says. About 10 percent of hospital deaths are linked to the potentially preventable scenario of clots forming in the venous system, then breaking loose.