by Ginny Caylor
Recognizing that most women know the signs of a heart attack and even a stroke, but likely have little knowledge about venous thromboembolism (VTE) and its symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is embarking on an aggressive education campaign to address the lagging awareness about this common, costly and treatable condition.
The CDC has given the Vascular Disease Foundation (VDF) a $1 million grant to develop a public awareness program about VTE over the next five years.Sometimes referred to as a pulmonary embolus or deep vein thrombosis, VTE affects approximately just as many individuals each year as heart attack and stroke. The main risk factors are hospital stays for surgery or medical illness, extended bed rest, paralysis and cancer. Obesity, smoking and long haul travel increase a person’s risk of developing VTE. Family history also is a factor.
Educating Women about VTE
The CDC grant creates a program to educate the public about VTE that is directed specifically to women. Dr. Suman Rathbun, director of vascular medicine at the University of Oklahoma and one of the main investigators for the grant, explains that women were chosen as the target for two reasons. First, because they make the majority of healthcare decisions for their families, and second, because they have unique risk factors due to hormonal changes from birth control methods, childbirth and menopause. “Women and men have an equal risk for VTE,” says Dr. Rathbun, “But women have unique risk factors because of hormones and because they make 70 to 80 percent of the healthcare decisions for their families.
Targeting women is important.”According to Dr. Rathbun about 600,000 people in the United States are affected by VTE every year. It is estimated that about 100,000 people die as a result of this kind of blood clot.“There have been lots of studies coming out saying that VTE is important and the public doesn’t know anything about it,” says Dr. Rathbun. “We need to educate the public. VTE kills more people every year than AIDS, breast cancer and traffic accidents combined. The nice thing is, unlike cancer or AIDS, we can prevent the majority of VTE occurrences, save lives and save healthcare resources. ”
Creating Public Awareness
There are two parts to the grant’s education program. The first is to recognize the risk factors for VTE because effective prevention is available. The second part is ensuring that the public knows the signs and symptoms of VTE.Working with Dr. Tom Ortel at Duke University and VDF staff, Dr. Rathbun and the team have created numerous ways to get this education out. “I am used to scientific grants. This is a public awareness grant, so we have employed people with expertise in public awareness.” The team has partnered with Spirit of Women during the grant’s first year. Spirit of Women is a private group that works with over 600 hospitals to provide healthcare education for women. Through the grant, Dr. Rathbun hopes that the public will not only understand how common VTE is, but also learn the signs and risks. By educating the public, especially women, the study will provide them with the knowledge they need to be their own advocate. “This is a public health crisis, that is why the CDC is putting resources into this,” she says.