Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Doctors hopeful easier blood thinners are nearing

From the Associated Press:
A trio of experimental drugs has doctors hopeful that for the first time in decades, millions of people at risk of lethal blood clots may soon get easier treatment.

The first goal is a pill option for people who now need daily blood-thinning shots for weeks after knee or hip replacement surgery.

But the ultimate goal is an alternative to that old standby warfarin, also called Coumadin, the nation's most troublesome lifesaver because of side effects and restrictions its 2 million users face.

Now in late-stage testing in thousands of Americans are three pills that work to prevent blood clots in ways that promise to be less burdensome. One of the trio, Boehringer Ingelheim's Pradaxa, just began selling in Europe.

The drug research comes as Medicare is considering withholding payment from hospitals when at-risk patients develop clots in their veins, usually the legs — a common preventable cause of hospital deaths. The National Quality Forum has estimated that only about a third of patients who need protective blood thinners while hospitalized get them.

Known medically as a "deep vein thrombosis" or DVT, such a clot can kill quickly if it moves up to the lungs. There aren't good counts, but recent estimates suggest that about 900,000 people a year suffer a vein clot, and nearly 300,000 die. Being immobile for long periods, such as during hospitalizations or even long airplane flights, can trigger a clot. Vice President Cheney suffered one after a long trip last year. NBC correspondent David Bloom died of one in 2003 after spending days in a cramped military vehicle while covering the invasion of Iraq. ...more

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