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8 hospital deaths from blood clots in lungs prompt calls to boost prevention measures

The text in this illustration reads, "Let's move our ankles forward and backward to increase blood flow in our calves!" to prevent acute pulmonary thromboembolism in hospitalized patients. The Japan Medical Safety Research Organization has suggested posting the illustration besides beds at medical institutions. (Image courtesy of the Japan Medical Safety Research Organization)

Eight people were found to have died from acute pulmonary embolisms from lying in hospital beds, according to a study by the third-party Japan Medical Safety Research Organization.

    The finding came after examinations into 330 cases of hospital deaths under the Medical Accident Investigation System, which was put in place in October 2015. Hospitals are required to investigate all accidental deaths and report the results to the third-party organization in order to prevent a recurrence of medical accidents leading to patient deaths. The probe into the 330 cases was completed by March this year.

    The organization's analytical panel headed by Kyorin University professor Toru Sato examined the hospital reports of the eight deaths, finding that they occurred across a wide range of patients, from those with broken bones and undergoing surgery to remove brain tumors, to those with schizophrenia. These cases made it clear that the condition could occur in any hospitalized person, and the organization called on medical professionals as well as patients to step up prevention methods.

    Acute pulmonary thromboembolism, also known as "economy class syndrome," is when a blood clot (thrombus) travels to the blood vessels in the lungs and causes a blockage, or pulmonary embolism. This causes a person to have trouble breathing and palpitations. It's known to occur when a person does not move from a certain position in the confined space of an airplane or train for a long period of time, which reduces healthy blood flow and boosts the danger of blood clots. The condition can also occur in patients lying in hospital beds.

    Currently, hospitals use prevention methods such as stockings that apply pressure, but in cases of broken bones, some patients could not wear the stockings due to pain. Additionally, it is extremely hard to identify the early symptoms of shortness of breath or chest pain from other conditions, so acute pulmonary thromboembolism is often only recognized once the condition worsens or during an autopsy after the patient has died.

    Because of this, the analytical panel is calling on medical professionals to not only consider the possibility of the onset of the condition, but also to make sure patients are also well aware of the risk for early-stage detection. As one method to strengthen prevention measures, the organization made a suggestion that recommends patients to move their ankles forward and backward, which moves muscles and increases blood flow in the calves.

    "Until now, it was thought to be a condition that occurred suddenly, but there are special characteristics that occur in the early stages," said Sosuke Kimura, a member of the organization's board of directors. This includes having trouble breathing, chest pains, palpitations and leg pain. "Patients shouldn't suffer in silence, but alert nurses or other staff."

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