The deadly condition that is being mistaken for COVID-19

A charity has warned that a potentially deadly condition is being misdiagnosed by doctors – who wrongly assume that patients are presenting with symptoms of coronavirus. 

The charity Thrombosis UK says patients who have sought help for symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) have been told their symptoms are due to COVID-19. 

As a result, many of these patients have only been correctly diagnosed with blood clots at a life-critical stage or, tragically, after death.

Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins of your body, usually in your legs. 

If a blood clot breaks off from a DVT and travels to the lung, which can trigger a pulmonary embolism (PE). This can be fatal, however, if it's caught early enough, it can be treated with anticoagulant medicines. These reduce the blood's ability to clot and stop existing clots getting bigger.

Symptoms of a DVT 

  • Swelling, usually in one leg (or arm)
  • Reddish or blue skin discolouration
  • Leg pain or tenderness
  • Leg (or arm) warm to touch

If you have developed a pulmonary embolism, you may experience sudden shortness of breath and a stabbing chest pain that worsens with deep breathing. You’ll feel your heart beating rapidly and there will be a cough – often with bloody mucus. 

Unfortunately, as not moving around enough is a risk factor for DVTs, the lockdown has meant blood clots are more likely to happen, as people do not go out or exercise as usual.

Professor Beverley Hunt OBE, Thrombosis UK Medical Director, said she has seen an increase in the number of people turning up at hospital with a dangerous blood clot.

Prof Hunt , said: “With an increase in telephone and e-consultation, we fear that health care professionals aren’t carrying out all the necessary investigations and tragically people are dying of undiagnosed blood clots as a result. 

“Knowing all the symptoms of blood clots and COVID-19 is the first step to avoiding this unnecessary loss of life.”

Around 70,000 DVTs are diagnosed in the UK annually, Sadly 1 in 4 people die from causes related to blood clots, so medics need to be on the lookout for patients who have developed DVTs.

Risk factors for DVT

  • People over 60
  • Smokers
  • Those who are overweight
  • Medical history of  DVT 
  • The contraceptive pill or HRT
  • Cancer or heart failure
  • Varicose veins
  • Travel where you remain immobile for more than three hours
  • Recovery from surgery
  • Pregnancy or in the weeks after childbirth

Consultant vascular surgeon Professor Stephen Black of UK Vein Clinic agrees there is not enough awareness of DVTs and says vein health should be treated more seriously. He says: Varicose veins are often considered to be simply a cosmetic issue. However, it is very important to understand that they are a sign of vein disease and that this could progress to complications such as ulceration, blood clots (thrombosis) and in the worse case scenario a blockage in the lungs (pulmonary embolism).’

He adds: ‘It is perhaps surprising to note that vein disease represents two per cent of the total healthcare budget of the UK, with most of this cost being attributed to the treatment of venous leg ulcers. It is estimated that seventy-three thousand people in the UK suffer from this condition. The appearance of veins on our legs should therefore be taken seriously.

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Obstruction of one of the deep veins, often in the calf, by a blood clot. Often abbreviated to DVT. Full medical glossary
An abbreviation for deep vein thrombosis: the obstruction of one of the deep veins, often in the calf, by a blood clot. Full medical glossary
Obstruction of blood flow by an embolus, a clot (or other material, for example, fat or air) that has become dislodged from elsewhere in the blood system. Full medical glossary
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