A pulmonary embolism is a blockage, or blood clot, in the pulmonary artery, which carries blood to the lungs. The blood clot forms in another body part, such as an arm or leg, and breaks loose, traveling through the bloodstream until it gets to the lungs. The clot blocks the opening so that the blood can’t get to the lungs where it is needed.
- How Dangerous is PE?
According to the CDC, an estimated 1 out of every 1,000 people in the US are affected by Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT. DVT is one of the leading causes of pulmonary embolism, which causes the condition.
An embolism can cause low blood oxygen levels due to decreased blood flow. It can also cause the heart to work harder to pump the blood. It can cause damage to the arteries in the lung and can lead to permanent lung damage or even death.
- What are the Warning Signs?
Symptoms of a PE may include:
- Chest pain that becomes worse when breathing in
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Increased warmth in a leg that is swollen or painful
- Redness and swelling of the leg or affected limb
- Pain or tenderness in the leg
- Shortness of breath that is sudden or progressive
- A cough accompanied by sputum with blood and mucus
- Who is at Risk?
Risk factors include people who:
- Immobile for long periods
- Blood clotting disorder
- Family history of blood clots
- Overweight or obese
- History of heart disease, cancer, or high blood pressure
- What Causes an Embolism?
An embolism occurs when a clot blocks the flow of blood to the lungs. The clot can be from a DVT or Deep Vein Thrombosis. If the clot stays put, it isn’t a problem; the body will absorb it over time. It only becomes a problem when it breaks loose and travels through the bloodstream.
- How is it Treated?
Doctors may use different treatments to stop the clot from getting any larger and prevent new ones from being formed. Treatments for an embolism may include:
- Blood thinners – the most common treatment for an embolism is blood thinners like warfarin. Blood thinners keep the clot from getting larger and prevent new ones. There is a risk of bleeding with blood thinners so your doctor will monitor you for this.
- Catheterization – The doctor inserts a thin, flexible needle into a vein in your thigh and up to your lung. Then the clot dissolves with medicine.
- Filters for IVC or the Inferior Vena Cava – An option for those who cannot take blood thinners. Doctor’s will insert a needle into the inferior vena cava, which is the large vein that carries blood back to the heart, and place a filter to keep clots out of the lungs. Filters for IVC stop clots before they get to the lungs and traps them in a tiny metal frame that looks like an upside-down umbrella.
Your doctor will work with you to determine the best course of treatment.