Mater doctors lead drive to reduce clot-related hospital deaths

Venous thromboembolism is third-largest cause of cardiovascular death

Venous thromboembolism: the umbrella term includes conditions such as pulmonary embolism, when a blood vessel in the lungs becomes blocked. Photograph: BSIP/UIG Via Getty

Doctors at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin are leading a new drive to reduce the rate of preventable clot-related deaths in Irish hospitals.

The first national clinical group for venous thromboembolism has been established within the health service to tackle what is the third-largest cause of cardiovascular death after heart attack and stroke.

Venous thromboembolism – or obstruction of a blood vessel by a clot dislodged from another site in the circulation – is responsible for almost 500,000 deaths a year in Europe, but the absence of specific data for Ireland means the mortality rate here is not known. Doctors know, however, that venous thromboembolism, or VTE, is a leading cause of death in cancer patients and the main cause of direct maternal death in the UK and Ireland.

The umbrella term includes conditions such as pulmonary embolism as well as deep-vein thrombosis, which has been identified as a risk on long-haul flights.


Most cases acquired in hospital

Dr Fionnuala Ní Áinle, a consultant in haematology at the Mater, says that most cases are acquired in hospital and that many are preventable through better management and new treatment options.

"VTE is common and can be very debilitating. We need to be vigilant for the risk facts and to identify quickly those patients who are most at risk," she said, speaking at an international conference on the condition in Dublin on Friday.

Risk factors for developing a clot include being immobile for long periods, excess body weight, infection and having had an operation. Pregnant women and women who have undergone an emergency caesarean section are also at increased risk.

Ann Marie O'Neill, founder of Thrombosis Ireland, called the setting up of a national clinical group of significant importance to the awareness, prevention and care of Irish patients. "The research into VTE and its causes and early treatment will have a tremendous effect on saving the lives of patients," she said.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.