Stopping A Killer

It is impossible to know whether NBC reporter David Bloom's death could have been prevented. But one thing's certain: we should all learn more about the ailment that killed him, says Dr. Victor Tapson of Duke University--a pulmonary embolism, responsible for as many as 200,000 deaths annually in the United States. That's more than breast cancer and traffic accidents combined.

The condition occurs when a blood clot, usually in a vessel deep inside the leg, breaks off and travels to the lung, cutting off arteries that carry oxygen and causing heart failure. Among the risk factors: inactivity, dehydration, age (over 40), pregnancy, hospitalization, heart attack, obesity and prior clots. As many as 5 percent of Americans also have a defective clotting gene that makes us more susceptible. (Doctors rarely test for the defect, since there's no consensus on what to do if you have it.) If you have a history of clots or another risk factor and you'll be traveling in a plane or car for more than eight hours, consult your doctor. It might make sense to take a long- acting blood thinner as a preventive measure.

Pay attention to warning signs: leg pain or swelling, shortness of breath, lightheadedness and chest pain. And when traveling, remember to get up, flex your calves and have a big drink of water.