To Dye or Not

Last week, I underwent a three-month scan for cancer. I am still cancer free, so let’s get that out of the way. I’m so cancer free that I started thinking about those with kidney cancer who have scans. That’s when I started asking questions about this procedure that I’ve already undergone what seems like a million times. My questions, while answered by the technicians, of course led me to other questions. Here are the answers. 

Let’s start at the beginning. Do we use CT or CAT Scan when referring to this kind of test? According to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s Blog at https://bit.ly/3lKrkjP:  

“… CAT and CT scans both mean the same type of diagnostic examination. CAT was used earlier in its history, while CT is the recent up-to-date term for convenience sake. The term CT stands for computed tomography and the term CAT stands for computed axial tomography or computerized axial tomography scan.” 

Huh? I get ‘computed,’ but what’s ‘tomography’? On to my favorite dictionary of all time. You guessed it; The Merriam-Webster Dictionary at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tomography tells us, it’s: 

“a method of producing a three-dimensional image of the internal structures of a solid object (such as the human body or the earth) by the observation and recording of the differences in the effects on the passage of waves of energy impinging on those structures” 

Ah, that makes sense. Now what about this iodine dye that we, as Chronic Kidney Disease patients, are not supposed to have? I went to Inside Radiology at https://www.insideradiology.com.au/iodine-containing-contrast-medium/ for information. 

“Iodine-containing contrast medium (ICCM), sometimes called contrast or contrast medium, is a chemical substance used in medical X-ray imaging [Gail here: CT is a sort of X-ray.]. When injected into the body, ICCM shows what is happening inside the hollow parts of the body (like blood vessels, the stomach, bowel or even the fluid around the spinal cord) on X-ray images or pictures. When injected into a blood vessel, which can be either an artery or a vein, it not only shows the inside of the blood vessel, but it can give information about how the organs supplied by that blood vessel are working. Good examples of this are the kidneys, brain and lungs.” 

I still have my port from chemotherapy, so that was used to inject the iodine dye. Reminder, 

“A chemo port is a small, implantable reservoir with a thin silicone tube that attaches to a vein. The main advantage of this vein-access device is that chemotherapy medications can be delivered directly into the port rather than a vein, eliminating the need for needle sticks.” 

Thank you, Moffit Cancer Center, at https://moffitt.org/treatments/chemotherapy/what-is-a-chemo-port/ for this information. It’s pretty clear ports can also be used for the dye, blood draws, and infusions of any kind. For example, I’m receiving iron infusion once a week via my port. 

I know the big question here is why am I having contrast dye when it’s not recommended for CKD patients. Let’s take a closer look at that warning.

“’The historical fears of kidney injury from contrast-enhanced CT have led to unmeasured harms related to diagnostic error and diagnostic,’ explained lead author Matthew S. Davenport, MD, associate professor of radiology and urology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. ‘Modern data clarify that this perceived risk has been overstated….’” 

The above statement is from U.S. Pharmacist at https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/risk-of-contrast-media-in-reduced-kidney-function-patients-overstated

I’m comfortable with iodine contrast. First, it was clear that cancer took precedence over my kidney health, but now I’m not worried about it because of the overstatements. 

After the CT, saline was infused into my port. Wolf Medical Supply at https://bit.ly/3gjx8Q6 did a great job of explaining what this is and how it’s preformed in layman’s terms: 

“A saline flush is used to help prevent IV catheters from becoming blocked and to help remove any medication that may be left at the catheter site. 

A saline flush is a sterile mix of salt and water that is compatible with your body’s fluids and tissues. Typically, the healthcare provider will fill a syringe using a bottle of normal saline solution or use a prefilled flush syringe that’s been prepared under sterile conditions. 

To flush the IV, first, clean the IV port or hub, then connect an IV saline flush syringe to the port, slowly pull back on the syringe plunger, inject the saline solution into the IV line, and then start the medication drip. Before beginning another infusion, your provider will flush the line again.” 

We’re not done yet, though. Next came a heparin flush. Does the word ‘heparin’ sound familiar?  According to Drugs.com at https://bit.ly/3qvmGcW,   

“Heparin is an anticoagulant (blood thinner) that prevents the formation of blood clots. Heparin is used to treat and prevent blood clots caused by certain medical conditions or medical procedures. It is also used before surgery to reduce the risk of blood clots.” 

I didn’t understand why I needed heparin after a CT. WebMD at https://bit.ly/3mUeCjK explained: 

“This medication is used to keep IV catheters open and flowing freely. Heparin helps to keep blood flowing smoothly and from clotting in the catheter by making a certain natural substance in your body (anti-clotting protein) work better….” 

While I understood the CT process now, and hope that you do, too, there are warnings in place. For example,  

“Patients with kidney failure or other kidney problems should notify their doctor. In some cases, the contrast media can cause kidney failure, especially in patients with underlying kidney problems or dehydration. Patients taking the diabetes medication metformin (Glucophage), or its derivatives, who receive contrast are at increased risk of developing a condition called metabolic acidosis, or an unsafe change in blood pH, and the drug may be halted for 48 hours after the procedure.” 

The above is also from WebMD, but this time at https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-60428/heparin-lock-intravenous/details.  

I take the warning to mean speak with your nephrologist first. Although, your case may be like mine was: cancer first, then kidneys, especially if it’s kidney cancer. But we always speak with our nephrologists first, don’t we?  

Until next week, 

Keep living your life!

“klot” + “id” 

No, that’s not the result of misplacing my fingers on the keyboard. According to https://youglish.com/pronounce/clotted/english, this is the correct two syllable pronunciation of the word clotted. My all-time favorite dictionary, the Merriam-Webster, at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/clotted defines the adjective (word describing a noun) clotted as:

“1: a portion of a substance adhering together in a thick nondescript mass (as of clay or gum)

2 a: a roundish viscous lump formed by coagulation of a portion of liquid or by melting

b: a coagulated mass produced by clotting of blood”

You’re right – it’s the second definition we’ll be dealing with today. Why? A long-time reader was telling me about his blood clot when I suddenly realized I had no idea if there were any connection at all between Chronic Kidney Disease and blood clots.

As it turns out, there is.  The following is from the National Kidney Foundation at https://www.kidney.org/sites/default/files/Blood_Clots_And_CKD_2018.pdf:

“CKD may put you at higher risk for VTE. The reasons for this are not well understood. The connection may depend on what caused your CKD and how much kidney damage you have. No matter the reason, CKD may make it easier for your body to form blood clots. The risk for VTE is seen more often in people with nephrotic syndrome (a kidney problem that causes swelling, usually of the ankles, a high level of protein in the urine, and a low level of a protein called albumin in the blood).”

I have a question already. What is VTE? I found World Thrombosis Day’s explanation at www.worldthrombosisday.org › issue › vte the most helpful.

“Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a condition in which a blood clot forms most often in the deep veins of the leg, groin or arm (known as deep vein thrombosis, DVT) and travels in the circulation, lodging in the lungs (known as pulmonary embolism, PE).”

How could I have CKD for over a dozen years and not know this? Many thanks to my reader and online friend for bringing it up. 

Well, it’s back to the beginning for us. How is VTE diagnosed? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at www.cdc.gov › ncbddd › dvt › diagnosis-treatment was helpful here.

“Duplex ultrasonography is an imaging test that uses sound waves to look at the flow of blood in the veins. It can detect blockages or blood clots in the deep veins. It is the standard imaging test to diagnose DVT. A D-dimer blood test measures a substance in the blood that is released when a clot breaks up.”

Let’s take a closer look at the D-dimer blood test. That’s another new one for me. My old standby, MedlinePlus (This time at https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/d-dimer-test/.) offered the following which more than satisfactorily answered my question.

“A D-dimer test looks for D-dimer in blood. D-dimer is a protein fragment (small piece) that’s made when a blood clot dissolves in your body.

Blood clotting is an important process that prevents you from losing too much blood when you are injured. Normally, your body will dissolve the clot once your injury has healed. With a blood clotting disorder, clots can form when you don’t have an obvious injury or don’t dissolve when they should. These conditions can be very serious and even life-threatening. A D-dimer test can show if you have one of these conditions.”

By the way, MedlinePlus is part of the U.S. National Library of Medicine which, in turn, is part of the National Institutes of Health.

This brings me to another question. How would you or your doctor even know you may need this test?

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of people with DVT don’t have symptoms. Any symptoms that do occur will be in the affected leg or the area where the clot is found. Symptoms can include:

pain

redness of the skin

warmth of the skin

swelling of the area

If the clot moves into the lungs and you develop PE, you may have symptoms such as:

chest pain, which may get worse when you breathe deeply or cough

coughing

coughing up blood

dizziness or even fainting

rapid shallow breathing, or tachypnea

rapid heartbeat

irregular heartbeat

shortness of breath”

Thank you to Healthline at https://www.healthline.com/health/dvt-vs-pulmonary-embolism for the above information.

Now we know what VTE is, what symptoms you may experience, and the test to take to confirm that you do, indeed, have VTE. You know what comes next. How do we treat VTE once it’s confirmed?

These are some, but not all, of the treatments that may be recommended. I discovered them on WebMD’s site at https://www.webmd.com/dvt/what-is-venous-thromboembolism.

“Blood thinners. These drugs don’t break up the clot, but they can stop it from getting bigger so your body has time to break it down on its own. They include heparin, low-molecular-weight heparin, apixaban (Eliquis), edoxaban (Savaysa), rivaroxaban (Xarelto), and warfarin (Coumadin).

Clot-busting drugs. These medicines are injections that can break up your clot. They include drugs like tPA (tissue plasminogen activator).

Surgery. In some cases, your doctor may need to put a special filter into a vein, which can stop any future clots from getting to your lungs. Sometimes, people need surgery to remove a clot.

Even after you recover from a VTE and you’re out of the hospital, you’ll probably still need treatment with blood thinners for at least 3 months. That’s because your chances of having another VTE will be higher for a while.”

I’m still wondering how to avoid VTE. This is what The National Blood Clot Alliance at https://www.stoptheclot.org/learn_more/prevention_of_thrombosis/ suggested:

“Ask your doctor about need for ‘blood thinners’ or compression stockings to prevent clots, whenever you go to the hospital

Lose weight, if you are overweight

Stay active

Exercise regularly; walking is fine

Avoid long periods of staying still

Get up and move around at least every hour whenever you travel on a plane, train, or bus, particularly if the trip is longer than 4 hours

Do heel toe exercises or circle your feet if you cannot move around

Stop at least every two hours when you drive, and get out and move around

Drink a lot of water and wear loose fitted clothing when you travel

Talk to your doctor about your risk of clotting whenever you take hormones, whether for birth control or replacement therapy, or during and right after any pregnancy

Follow any self-care measures to keep heart failure, diabetes, or any other health issues as stable as possible”

And we have yet another reason to be extra cautious if you have CKD.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!