As World Thrombosis Day Campaign steps up

As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark this year’s World Thrombosis Day, a medical expert and spokesperson for the World Thrombosis Day campaign, Dr Helen Okoye, has called for more attention towards curtailing the menace of blood clots and the risk of fatal heart attacks.

Okoye who spoke on World Heart Day ahead of the World Thrombosis Day Campaign noted that it’s vitally important for people to understand the risks that could lead to having a fatal heart attack, and how to lessen them.

Thrombosis, commonly known as blood clots, plays a significant role in people having heart attacks. To understand how this happens, she explains that coronary arteries – which are wrapped around the outside of the heart – supply blood to the entire heart muscle, which needs oxygen-rich blood to function.

“These coronary arteries can develop plaques – a build-up of cholesterol, fibrous tissue, and inflammatory cells – in a process called atherosclerosis. If these plaques become unstable and rupture, a blood clot can form at the site in a process called arterial thrombosis. If that blood clot blocks a coronary artery, blood can’t reach the heart, which leads to a heart attack,” she says.

Signs of a heart attack include chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, light-headedness, pain in the jaw, neck, and back, and pain in one or both arms or shoulders. If such an instance, seek immediate emergency medical help.

Warning of a fatal link between blood clots and heart attacks, Okoye harped on the importance of reducing the risk of thrombosis, the often preventable underlying pathology of the top three cardiovascular killers – heart attack, thromboembolic stroke, and Venous Thromboembolism (VTE).

She states that thrombosis can affect people of all ages, even though certain factors put one at higher risk.

“Thrombosis is a significant public health issue, yet so many people are unaware of it. Risk factors for thrombosis include hospitalization, surgery, cancer, prolonged immobility, family history, oestrogen-containing medications, and pregnancy or recent birth.”

It all comes back to prevention.

 “Understanding the risk factors and what you can do to lessen them enables you to be an active participant in your health and wellbeing and is the knowledge that could very well save your life or that of a loved one.”

Meanwhile, World Thrombosis Day, a global awareness campaign led by the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH), recognized annually on October 13 to bring awareness to conditions caused by thrombosis, stepped up efforts against the preventable killer disorder.

Ahead of its 10th anniversary in 2023, the World Thrombosis Day campaign, with the tagline “Eyes Open to Thrombosis,” is dedicated to spreading awareness of the signs, symptoms, and risk factors of blood clots with the help of more than 3,000 partner organisations who organizing upwards of 10,000 awareness activities worldwide

Blood clots are the underlying cause of heart attacks, ischemic strokes, and venous thromboembolism (VTE), the top three cardiovascular killers. VTE occurs when one or more blood clots form in a deep vein, most often in the leg (deep vein thrombosis, DVT), and can travel in the bloodstream and lodge in the lungs (a condition known as pulmonary embolism).

This year’s global campaign offers enhanced efforts to share personal stories from patients and survivors who have experienced life-threatening VTE to spotlight the prevalence of this often-overlooked condition.

Professor Beverley Hunt,  Chair of the World Thrombosis Day Steering Committee said, “Blood clots are often overlooked because their symptoms can resemble those of many other conditions. It is absolutely crucial that both medical professionals and the general public are aware of the signs, symptoms and risk factors to ensure that blood clots are treated as soon as possible.”

On her part, Professor Flora Peyvandi, MD, ISTH President said, “We encourage everyone across the globe to get involved in World Thrombosis Day to increase public awareness and education about blood clots. We want to thank Prof. Beverley Hunt (Chair) and the Steering Committee, a group of patients and renowned international medical experts in the fields of thrombosis, hemostasis, vascular and general internal medicine, and public health, for lending their time, expertise, and guidance to help the campaign impact billions of people each year.”

Top focus areas for the World Thrombosis Day campaign this year as it shines a spotlight on the risk factors associated with VTE blood clots include hospital-associated (over 50 percent of VTE occur during or after hospital admission), and cancer-associated (patients with cancer are four times more likely to develop a serious blood clot due to effects of cancer, surgery, and chemotherapy.

Others are gender-associated (men are more likely to develop blood clots than women, and when they have a clot, are more likely to get a recurrence than women). Women have periods in their lives where they are at increased risk, for example, if they use combined oral contraceptives or oral hormone replacement therapy during pregnancy, and six weeks postpartum.

 Mental health-associated factors are also in focus. Increased anxiety, depression, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are common following a physical diagnosis of a blood clot. 

The World Thrombosis Day campaign calls upon healthcare professionals to take determined action, such as performing VTE risk assessments when individuals are admitted to the hospital. The campaign further encourages the general public to request a VTE risk assessment when they are admitted to the hospital.

Key tips to help prevent blood clots include knowing the signs and symptoms of a blood clot. Red flags to look for are unexplained leg pain, sometimes associated with tenderness, redness, and/or swelling. Pulmonary embolism can cause shortness of breath, rapid breathing, chest pain and occasionally coughing up blood.

All individuals, when admitted to the hospital, should ask their healthcare professional for a VTE risk assessment, a questionnaire that gathers medical information to discern a patient’s potential risk factors for developing a blood clot(s).

It is also advised to stay active and hydrated when undertaking long periods of desk work. Set an alarm for five minutes before every hour, and use that time to get up, walk around and stretch.Staying immobile for long periods of time can increase the risk of blood clots. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration, which can cause blood to thicken, resulting in blood clots.