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A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that occurs in the lungs.
It can damage part of the lung due to restricted blood flow, decrease oxygen levels in the blood, and affect other organs as well. Large or multiple blood clots can be fatal.
The blockage can be life-threatening. According to the Mayo Clinic, it results in the death of one-third of people who go undiagnosed or untreated. However, immediate emergency treatment greatly increases your chances of avoiding permanent lung damage.
Blood clots 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.
Blood clots in the deep veins of the body can have several different causes, including:
Factors that increase your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism include:
Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism depend on the size of the clot and where it lodges in the lung.
The most common symptom of a pulmonary embolism is shortness of breath. This may be gradual or sudden.
Other symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include:
If you notice one or more of these symptoms, especially shortness of breath, you should seek medical attention immediately.
In some cases, a pulmonary embolism can be difficult to diagnose. This is especially true if you have an underlying lung or heart condition, such as emphysema or high blood pressure.
When you visit your doctor for your symptoms, they’ll ask about your overall health and any pre-existing conditions you may have.
Your doctor will typically perform one or more of the following tests to discover the cause of your symptoms:
Your treatment for a pulmonary embolism depends on the size and location of the blood clot. If the problem is minor and caught early, your doctor may recommend medication as treatment. Some drugs can break up small clots.
Drugs your doctor may prescribe include:
Surgery may be necessary to remove problematic clots, especially those that restrict blood flow to the lungs or heart. According to the Mayo Clinic, some surgical procedures your doctor may use in the case of a pulmonary embolism include:
After you receive proper treatment for a pulmonary embolism at the hospital, you’ll be advised to treat the underlying cause. This is typically deep vein thrombosis.
You’ll most likely start taking anticoagulant medications, such as heparin and warfarin, to prevent blood clots from returning. You may also need to use compression stockings (they are similar to really tight socks) or another device to prevent clots from forming in your legs.
Regularly exercising your legs is also a key component of therapy after a pulmonary embolism. Your doctor will give you complete instructions on how to care for yourself to prevent future blood clots.
Written by: Brian Kranson: Nov 15, 2017
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