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Inova Alexandria Hospital

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Alexandria 4320 Seminary Rd. Alexandria, VA Directions →

"A Game Changer"

Pulmonary embolisms--blockages in one or more arteries in the lungs--are tricky to diagnose. They're most commonly caused by blood clots that travel to the lungs from another part of the body, such as the legs, and symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and low blood pressure.

"But those symptoms can be found in a variety of conditions," says Keith Sterling, director of cardiovascular and interventional radiology at Inova Alexandria Hospital. "If you're not thinking about it, you often will miss the diagnosis."

As a result, pulmonary embolisms kill 200,000 people a year in the US, making them the most common preventable cause of death for hospital patients. Doctors have always needed a quicker and more effective tool for fighting them, and Sterling thinks he's found it in sound waves.

Inova Alexandria was the nation's first hospital to enroll a patient in a new clinical trial called SEATTLE II, which combines high-frequency ultrasound with a traditional clot-busting medication.

"Think of a clot as a tightly wound ball of yarn," Sterling says. "We can bathe it in the clot buster to get rid of it. But if we direct ultrasound energy into the middle of that ball of yarn, all of a sudden the strands become less tightly packed. The clot buster can now bathe the clot more effectively, and what we've seen is much more rapid dissolution of the clot."

Because the ultrasound waves make the clot easier to break up, doctors can use less of the clot-busting medicine, which in high doses is associated with bleeding in the brain. Sterling calls the treatment revolutionary: "This is going to be a game changer."

Read all of the 'Saving Lives with Science' pieces about our 2013-2014 Top Hospitals.

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Posted at 4:00 PM/ET, 10/02/2014
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