Cure for Deep Vein Thrombosis?
New Technique Dissolves Blood Clots in Leg, Relieves Symptoms
Jan 29, 2008 -- National Institutes of Health researchers appear to
have found a safe way to dissolve the painful blood clots that swell the legs
of people with deep vein thrombosis or DVT.
If you suffer DVT -- a blood clot deep in your leg -- doctors usually can
keep it from killing you. But this treatment is incomplete: Doctors cannot make
the painful condition go away.
This may soon change, thanks to a major study by Richard Chang, MD, chief of
the interventional radiology section of the NIH Clinical Center, and
colleagues. Chang's team has been able to make all DVT
symptoms go away for 18 of 20 patients who underwent their experimental
"Eventually this will be a practical, complete treatment. We will be able
not only to treat DVT, but to restore venous function in the leg. It will be as
though you did not have DVT," Chang tells WebMD.
Does it work? WebMD asked Rebecca McDonald, one of the 20 patients in the
Chang study. McDonald was 35 when she suffered a huge DVT after giving birth to
her third child.
"My clot ran from my calf to my stomach. It became obvious to my husband and
me that I was going to lose my leg," McDonald says. "After the second day of
treatment, the swelling started to dissipate. A week later I was
walking, and a week after that I was
It's been five years since her treatment. McDonald remains symptom free.
DVT = Emergency
Deep vein thrombosis is a very serious condition, as pieces of the clot
can break off and block blood flow to the lung. These pulmonary embolisms can
be fatal. Fortunately, emergency treatment with blood thinners --
anticoagulants such as
Coumadin -- greatly reduces the chance that this will happen.
But anticoagulants don't go to the heart of the problem. They do not remove
the blood clots that plug small veins in the leg. The body may eventually
dissolve these clots by itself, but not in time to prevent permanent damage to
the delicate structure of the vein.
Interventional radiologists sometimes use infusions of clot-busting drugs such as tPA to
dissolve DVT clots. Patients who receive these continuous infusions of
clot-dissolving drugs are at high risk of dangerous bleeding in the brain and
in other organs.
To avoid this problem, Chang and colleagues apply tiny doses of tPA directly
to the clot. None of the study's 20 patients suffered bleeding.
"The beauty of tPA is it is cleared in five minutes by the liver, so any
excess is quickly removed. The tPA we put into the clot stays on the clot and
continues to work. So we reduce the duration of time the circulation is exposed
to these enzymes," Chang says.