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Blood Clots (Venous Thrombosis)

Blood Clots (Venous Thrombosis)

It is estimated that blood clots in the vein, known medically as 'venous thrombosis' (VTE), kill 25,000 hospital patients every year. Often called 'the silent killer' due to their asymptomatic nature, measures are now in place throughout NHS Trusts to screen every patient admitted to hospital for risk of clotting. If medical staff fail to adhere to this programme and a patient suffers a blood clot as a result, there may be grounds for a medical negligence claim.

What Is Venous Thrombosis?

Venous Thrombosis (VTE) is a blood clot that forms within a vein. Usually, a blood clot will only occur when a blood vessel is damaged in some way, helping to stop the wound from bleeding. With thrombosis, however, a clot will form irregularly often without a vein having suffered any injury. This in turn will prevent the flow of blood, disrupting the supply of oxygen to the surrounding tissue.

This type of blood clot may occur due to:

  • Being overweight;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Having an operation;
  • Being immobile;
  • Severe injury or trauma;
  • Conditions/medication that slow blood flow;
  • Conditions/medication that make blood clot too easily eg. thrombophilia, chemotherapy or the contraceptive pill.

Symptoms Diagnosis and Treatment of Blood Clots

Blood clots are sometimes referred to as a 'silent condition', as a patient may not experience any symptoms. If a patient does present with symptoms, these may include:-

  • An itchy rash on the skin;
  • An aching sensation;
  • Skin that feels warm to the touch;
  • Prominent veins;
  • A swelling, pain and discolouration (if the clot is in the leg);
  • A mild fever.

A clot in the vein can be diagnosed via a number of tests, which amongst others include a D-dimer test (which shows if your body has been trying to break down a clot), an ultrasound scan and a venogram (where dye is injected into your foot to highlight blood flow on an X-ray).

If you are found to have a blood clot in a vein, you will need to take anti-coagulant medication. This may be heparin (given by injection) or warfarin (taken in tablet form), both of which will help reduce clotting factors in your blood. You may also need to wear compression stockings to aid the blood flow around your body.

Preventing Blood Clots

Some people do, unfortunately, have a higher risk of developing a blood clot than others. In such cases, it may be necessary to take medication that makes the blood less sticky.

Nevertheless, it is not just those who are prone to blood clots that must be wary, as anyone can develop a blood clot. Although they cannot be entirely prevented, there are measures that can be taken to help minimise the risk. For example, maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, doing regular exercise and not smoking.

Furthermore, if you are admitted to hospital you should be assessed by medical staff as to whether or not you are at risk of developing a blood clot. This is now a mandatory screening programme, and was introduced in 2010 to help reduce the number of deaths caused by blood clots. If a patient is at risk, preventative treatment should be given.

Blood Clots and Medical Negligence

Guidelines published in 2010 say every patient admitted to hospital should undergo a blood clot risk assessment, with subsequent treatment to be given if necessary. However, there have been many cases in which hospital staff have failed to perform these potentially lifesaving measures, leading a patient to suffer a blood clot which could have been easily prevented. Research recently carried out by the charity Lifeblood shows that only 30 Hospital Trusts are meeting NHS targets to risk assess 90% of patients. That means 4.5 million patients a year are admitted to hospital without receiving the necessary checks.

If you or someone close to you has suffered a blood clot in hospital because the mandatory screening programme failed to be implemented, you need to seek urgent legal assistance. A medical negligence solicitor will be able to assess your case, and if it is found hospital staff breached their duty of care towards you, you could receive compensation.

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