Study: Death rate from lung clots is on the rise after years of decline

Illustration showing blood clots in the lungs.

After nearly a decade of decline, the death rate from lung clots is now on the rise, particularly among African Americans and people under the age of 65, researchers are reporting.

Pulmonary embolism is part of the broader disease called venous thromboembolism (VTE), or blood clots that start in the veins. VTE also includes deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a clot in a vein deep in the body, usually the leg. If such a clot breaks free, it can travel to the lungs and cause a deadly pulmonary embolism.  Pulmonary embolisms and DVT kill about 100,000 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the study, the researchers studied pulmonary embolism mortality rates in the United States from 1999 to 2018. They found that the death rates for pulmonary embolism dropped an average of 4.4% per year from 1999 to 2008, then climbed to an average of 0.6 per year. The biggest increase was among people under the age of 65. The researchers also observed that black men and women tended to have higher death rates from pulmonary embolism than white people over the past two decades but the study did not address why those racial disparities existed.

The reasons for the overall increase are unclear, the researchers said, but they suspect that growing rates of obesity may be a factor. Identifying the underlying causes of this increase may help reduce the burden of pulmonary embolism and help save lives, the researchers note.

Their study, partly funded by the NHLBI, appeared in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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