Basic first aid could save elderly deaths

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Basic first aid procedures could help avoid fatal hemorrhaging in elderly people suffering a rupture of their varicose veins.

According to University of Adelaide forensic pathologist Professor Roger Byard, a handful of elderly people die in their homes each year in Australia due to ruptured varicose veins.

"They are usually living alone, vulnerable, and unaware of what to do in the case of a hemorrhage," he says.

"People need to be aware that veins can bleed quite dramatically with only relatively minor injuries. It is crucial to apply a dressing with firm pressure to the site of the hemorrhage and to elevate the bleeding leg. If that is done immediately, there is a chance that people can be saved," he says.

Although the incidence of deaths due to hemorrhage from varicose veins is extremely rare, most of these deaths are entirely preventable, he says.

Varicose veins are common in the adult population, occurring in up to 40% of men and 33% of women in the Western world. Because the skin and tissue of elderly people is so fragile, they are more likely to sustain minor leg injuries and ulcers which can then lead to ruptured veins.

Professor Byard and Dr John Gilbert recently published the results of a 10-year autopsy study on the incidence of fatal hemorrhaging due to ruptured varicose veins in the South Australian population.

Only eight cases were found in a total of more than 10,000 autopsies between January 1996 and December 2005. The male to female ratio was 1:3, with an average age of 78 years.

Their paper was published in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology last month.

To listen to the podcast of a Radio Adelaide interview with Professor Roger Byard regarding this story, please go to


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