News | May 14, 2003

Sucking out blood clots

Doctors say 10 percent to 15 percent of adults over age 65 have vascular disease that can lead to clotting. Deep vein thrombosis Certain cancers and strokes may also cause blood clots to form. A common cause of blood clots, deep vein thrombosis is a serious condition where blood clots develop in the deep veins of the legs. Symptoms include pain, swelling in the leg, enlargement of the superficial veins, reddish-blue discoloration of the skin, and warm skin. One in every 100 people who develops deep vein thrombosis dies. The cause of death is usually a blood clot, traveling from the legs to the lungs. Sitting for many hours in one position may put you at risk. This is how experts speculate NBC reporter David Bloom recently died. He passed away from deep vein thrombosis while traveling with troops in Iraq. Treatment for deep leg vein thrombosis usually involves taking anticoagulant, or blood thinning, medications to prevent new clots from forming or prevent existing clots from growing. Treatment generally lasts several months. Periodic lab work will be needed to monitor the level of anticoagulant medication in the blood. Rarely, a vena cava filter may be inserted into a vein to help prevent blood clots from traveling to the lungs. This device is usually only used for people at high risk for developing blood clots who are not good candidates for anticoagulant medication. Compression stockings are sometimes used to help reduce symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, such as swelling. They may also help prevent clots in people at risk for developing deep leg vein thrombosis. If clots are not removed quickly, it could have long-term complications. A new device called Angiojet works like a small, controlled tornado inside the blood vessels. A tiny catheter is placed into the vein behind the knee on both sides and run up to where the clot is to dissolve it. High-speed water jets create low pressure, which pulls the clot from a blood vessel, breaks it into microscopic pieces, and sucks them through the catheter into a medical vacuum bag outside the body. A big advantage of this procedure is it helps reduce the amount of time the catheter is in the blood vessel. That means patients spend less time in the intensive care unit and are able to go home much sooner. WATCH THE VIDEO Vacuuming out clots The angiojet is like a little tornado inside the veins. Interventional radiologist Dr. Ted Chambers, who uses Angiojet at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia, explained that with older techniques: "We put a catheter in and we run the drug sometimes over a couple of nights. The longer that catheter is in there running that drug, the more complications will happen. So, if we use the Angiojet, the idea is to remove as much clot as we can to shorten the time in the ICU and shorten the time that the catheter is in the blood vessel." The FDA approved the device for use with blood clots in 1997.