Cheap inflatable leg wraps may save the lives of patients after a stroke, according to research in Scotland.  The devices regularly squeeze the legs to keep blood flowing and prevent formation of fatal blood clots. A trial of 2,876 patients showed there were fewer clots with the wraps.

The Stroke Association said the results were “extremely encouraging” and that the wraps had the potential to save thousands of lives. 

Clots in the leg or deep vein thrombosis (DVT) are usually associated with long aeroplane flights but they are also a problem for hospital patients who are unable to move.  50,000 people per year in the UK are immobile when admitted to hospital after a stroke.

Doctors who surveyed patients at Western General Hospital and University of Edinburgh said that compression stockings did not improve survival and clot busting drugs led to other problems including bleeding on the brain. 

They tested the devices which fit around the legs and fill with air every minute. They compress the legs and force the blood back to the heart. They were worn for a month or until the patient recovered and was able to move again.

The study found that 8.5% of patients using the compression device developed blood clots, compared with 12.1% of patients who were treated normally.

Prof Martin Dennis said: “At last we have a simple, safe and affordable treatment that reduces the risk of a DVT and even appears to reduce the risk of dying after a stroke. We estimate that this treatment could potentially help about 60,000 stroke patients each year in the UK. If this number were treated we would prevent about 3,000 developing a DVT and perhaps save 1,500 lives.”

He suggested that the system could be used on other immobile patients, perhaps those with pneumonia.

Dr Dale Webb of the Stroke Association also said that “the results of the research are extremely encouraging and show that using compression devices on the legs of patients at risk of developing blood clots could be a more effective treatment.”

Julie Crossley, a medical injury lawyer at Ashton KCJ, comments: “This is very exciting research and seems to be on the surface a very simple and cost-effective method of prevention”.