March 17, 2008 / 1:32 PM / 12 years ago

Clot-busting drugs save limbs from frostbite

A frozen waterfall is seen in the Taiga region at temperatures of minus 30 degrees Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) near the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk January 13, 2008. Doctors using specialized imaging methods to precisely deliver drugs to frostbitten hands and feet may be able to save them from amputation, researchers reported on Monday. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Doctors using specialized imaging methods to precisely deliver drugs to frostbitten hands and feet may be able to save them from amputation, researchers reported on Monday.

The radiologists used angiography, an X-ray of the blood vessels, to confirm loss of blood flow in the severely frostbitten hands and feet of 17 patients.

They threaded catheters into the arteries to directly deliver clot-busting drugs to dissolve the blood clots and anti-spasmodics to relax the arteries.

This helped 90 percent of the patients, they told a meeting in Washington of the Society of Interventional Radiology.

“Previously, severe frostbite was a one-way route to limb loss. This treatment is a significant improvement.” said Dr. George Edmonson, an interventional radiologist with St. Paul Radiology in St. Paul, Minnesota, who worked on the study.

“We’re opening arteries that are blocked so that tissues can heal and limbs can be salvaged. We were able to reopen even the smallest arteries, saving patients’ fingers and toes,” Edmonson added.

Severe frostbite can block blood flow and cause small clots to form. These clots can worsen already slowed blood flow.

“For half our patients who received the clot-busting drug Tenectaplase, this technique worked beautifully, saving all fingers, hands, toes and feet that otherwise would have been lost,” said Edmonson.

“Overall, in about 80 percent of the cases, it significantly improved patients’ outcomes. Within one to three days of treatment, we saw improvement.”

Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Doina Chiacu

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