Acting Surgeon General Urges Awareness of DVT, Pulmonary Embolism

Acting Surgeon General Steven K. Galson, M.D., M.P.H., has issued a "Call to Action," urging all Americans to learn about and thereby reduce the number of cases of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) in the United States. The conditions are preventable and wholly treatable, he said, but they nevertheless affect an estimated 350,000 to 600,000 Americans each year, and the numbers are expected to increase as the U.S. population ages. Galson added that, together, deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism contribute to at least 100,000 deaths each year.

DVT is a blood clot in a deep vein, most commonly in the lower leg or thigh. The clot can block blood flow and cause pain, swelling, and skin discoloration. In the most serious cases, DVT can lead to a PE--when part of the blood clot breaks loose and travels through the bloodstream to the lungs, where it can block a lung artery, causing damage to the lungs or other organs from lack of oxygen.

"Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms are often 'silent' conditions--they can occur suddenly and without symptoms," Galson said. "But we have made a lot of progress in understanding how these disorders develop and how to prevent, diagnose, and treat them. It's time to put this knowledge into action."

Researchers have found that in most cases, DVT and PE develops in people who have an inherited blood clotting disorder or other risk factor, and who experience a triggering event. "Being hospitalized or confined to bed rest, having major surgery, suffering a trauma, or traveling for several hours can increase a person's risk of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism," Galson said. "We want to increase the awareness and knowledge of these potentially deadly conditions and encourage patients and health care providers to take the steps to prevent them."

Galson's call to action urges a coordinated, multifaceted plan to reduce the numbers of cases of DVT and PE nationwide. The plan emphasizes the need for increased awareness about the conditions, evidence-based practices for DVT, and more research on the causes, prevention, and treatment of it. The full text of "The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism 2008" is available at www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/calls/index.html.

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