Definition

What is pulmonary embolism?

Pulmonary embolism is a disease with a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in your lungs. In most cases, pulmonary embolism is caused by blood clots that travel to the lungs from the legs or, rarely, other parts of the body (deep vein blood clots).

How common is pulmonary embolism?

The blockage could be life-threatening and according to the Mayo Clinic, it results in the death of one-third of people who go undiagnosed or untreated. You may have a higher risk if you are over 60 years old.

However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of pulmonary embolism?

Based on how much of some elements such as the size of the clots, and whether you have underlying lung or heart disease, pulmonary embolism symptoms can be greatly various.

Some common signs and symptoms that a person with pulmonary embolism may experience:

  • Shortness of breath

Sudden appearance of this symptom is quite typical and always gets worse with exertion.

  • Chest pain

You may feel like you are experiencing a heart attack. The pain may get worse when you breathe deeply, cough, eat, bend or stoop. The pain will get worse with exertion but won’t go away when you rest.

  • Cough

The cough may produce bloody or blood-streaked sputum.

Other uncommon signs and symptoms that can occur with pulmonary embolism include:

  • Leg pain or swelling, or both, usually in the calf
  • Clammy or discolored skin (cyanosis)
  • Fever
  • Excessive sweating
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness

When should I see my doctor?

Early diagnosis and treatment can stop this condition from worsening and prevent another medical emergency, so talk to your doctor as soon as possible to prevent this serious condition.

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes pulmonary embolism?

It is proved that blood clot is considered as the primary reason causing pulmonary embolism. It can form for a variety of reasons. Pulmonary embolisms are most often caused by deep vein thrombosis, a condition in which blood clots form in veins deep in the body. The blood clots that most often cause pulmonary embolisms begin in the legs or pelvis.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for pulmonary embolism?

You may have higher risks for this condition if you are experiencing these following conditions:

  • Heart disease

Cardiovascular disease, specifically heart failure, makes clot formation more likely.

  • Cancer

Certain cancers, especially pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancers, and many cancers with metastasis, can increase levels of substances that help blood clot, and chemotherapy further increases the risk.

  • Surgery

Surgery is one of the leading causes of problem blood clots. Because of this reason, medication to prevent clots may be given before and after major surgery such as joint replacement.

  • Bed rest

After surgery, you must be confined to bed for an extended period, a heart attack, leg fracture, trauma or any serious illness makes you more vulnerable to blood clots. When the lower extremities are horizontal for long periods, the flow of venous blood slows and blood can pool in the legs.

  • Long trips

Sitting in a cramped position during lengthy plane or car trips slows blood flow in the legs, which contributes to the formation of clots.

  • Smoking

It is believed that tobacco use predisposes some people to blood clot formation, especially when combined with other risk factors.

  • Being overweight

Excess weight increases the risk of blood clots, particularly in women who smoke or have high blood pressure.

  • Pregnancy

The weight of the baby pressing on veins in the pelvis can slow blood return from the legs. Clots are more likely to form when blood slows or pools.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is pulmonary embolism diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that you may experience this condition, a physical examination will be performed and some tests will be also recommended by your doctor.

Some typical tests that may be ordered include:

  • Chest X-ray:

This standard, noninvasive test allows doctors to see your heart and lungs in detail, as well as any problems with the bones around your lungs.

  • ECG

This test measures your heart’s electrical activity.

  • MRI

This scan uses radio waves and a magnetic field to produce detailed images.

  • CT scan

This scan gives your doctor the ability to see cross-sectional images of your lungs. A special scan called a V/Q scan may be ordered.

  • Pulmonary angiography

This test involves making a small incision so your doctor can guide specialized tools through your veins

  • Duplex venous ultrasound

This test uses radio waves to visualize the flow of blood and to check for blood clots in your legs.

  • Venography

This is a specialized X-ray of the veins of your legs.

  • Specific blood test known as the D-dimer test.

How is pulmonary embolism treated?

Somme treatment options may be recommended by your doctor include:

  • Medication
    • Anticoagulants: It is also called blood thinners, the drugs heparin and warfarin prevent new clots from forming in your blood. They can save your life in an emergency situation.
    • Clot dissolvers (thrombolytics)

These drugs speed up the breakdown of a clot. They’re typically reserved for emergency situations because side effects may include dangerous bleeding problems.

  • Surgery

Surgery may be necessary to remove problematic clots, especially those that restrict blood flow to the lungs or heart.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage pulmonary embolism?

Following these useful tips can help you to prevent this condition:

  • Compression stockings

Compression stockings are able to steadily squeeze your legs, helping your veins and leg muscles move blood more efficiently

  • Leg elevation

Elevating your legs when possible and during the night also can be very effective

  • Physical activity

Moving as soon as possible after surgery can help prevent pulmonary embolism and hasten recovery overall

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: July 3, 2017 | Last Modified: July 3, 2017

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