A pulmonary embolism is when one of the pulmonary arteries becomes blocked. This happens when you have a blood clot in your legs that travels to your lungs. There is also a small chance that a clot from anywhere else in your body could travel to your lungs too. Pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when a clump of blood or any material becomes wedged into a lung (pulmonary) artery. Clots most commonly come from the deep veins of your legs, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Because clots ultimately block blood flow to the lungs, pulmonary embolisms can be life-threatening. Pulmonary embolisms can also cause heart damage, damage part of the lung, cause low oxygen levels in the blood, damage organs in the body and more. Roughly one-third of people with untreated pulmonary embolisms do not survive. Knowing your symptoms and measures to prevent PE and being aware of therapy for pulmonary embolisms can help you recover quickly if you have suffered from one.
Signs of a Pulmonary Embolism
Common signs of PE can include the following:
- Chest pain: feeling of a sharp pain almost as if you are having a heart attack. This pain can be elevated when you take deep breaths, cough, eat or do anything with physical exertion.
- Shortness of breath: not being able to catch your breath. This, too, will come on suddenly and become worse with physical exertion.
- Cough: may produce bloody sputum.
- Leg pain: usually paired with swelling and occurs in the calf.
- Clamminess: occurs in the skin.
- Excess sweating: perspiring more than normal.
- Tachycardia: rapid heartbeat
- Lightheadedness: feeling dizzy/un-centered.
If any of the above symptoms occur, you should seek medical attention.
Who is at Risk for a Pulmonary Embolism
Individuals at the highest risk for developing a pulmonary embolism are those who:
- Are inactive/immobile for long periods of time.
- Have cancer or a family history of cancer.
- Are bedridden and sit for long periods.
- Have inherited certain conditions, such as blood clotting disorders.
- Have undergone surgery or have a broken bone.
Additional factors include obesity, cigarette smoking, taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, ii you’ve had a stroke, a recent injury to a vein, injuries or burns to the hips/thigh bone, being 60+ years of age and more.
You must be aggressive in taking measures to prevent blood clots. The following are typically conducted immediately by a health care professional to prevent DVT:
- Blood thinners (anticoagulants)
- Compression stockings
- Leg elevation
- Pneumatic compression
- Physical activity
- Drinking plenty of fluids
Directly following, therapy for pulmonary embolisms is divided into initial, long-term and extended treatments. The initial phase is to reduce mortality in 5-10 days after PE presents itself. This is where patients are treated with thrombolytic, anticoagulants, etc. Shock and oxygen therapy are usually implemented right away. Long-term treatments are conducted 3 months after and paired with anticoagulants. Extended therapy for Pulmonary Embolisms is conducted 6+ months after presentation with no discontinuation date. Patients continue extended anticoagulation and should be monitored closely. You should always discuss your situation with your doctor and have a plan for if pulmonary embolism occurs.