What is Pulmonary Embolism ?
Pulmonary embolism is when a blood clot or clots block the pulmonary arteries in your lungs. The clot almost always results from a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT),a blood clot deep within the legs that breaks loose and leads to a pulmonary embolism or multiple pulmonary emboli. Thus, Pulmonary Embolism, or PE, always occurs in combination with DVT and the two conditions together are often referred to as venous thromboembolism (VTE). The blood clots that form a blockage can cause severe pain and can even result in death if medical attention is not sought.
What causes a Pulmonary Embolism ?
Blood clots are likely to form in veins that have been damaged due to an injury or even after a surgery. Blood clots such as DVT can occur when blood flow slows down; immobility is the most likely cause of the blood flow slowing enough to lead to a clot deep within the vein. DVT is among the highest ranking cause of pulmonary embolism because the clot is manifesting itself so deep within the veins (commonly in the legs) making blockage much more likely to occur. It is uncommon, but there are times where other tissue, a piece of a tumor, fat from marrow, or even a bubble of air can travel to the lungs. There are among the lower ranking causes of pulmonary embolism.
What are the symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism ?
Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include shortness of breath or wheezing, chest pain, and rapid heart rate. The chest pain is stabbing or sharp. Many people believe it resembles the pain of a heart attack. In fact, the pain can spread to the shoulders, neck, or even arms. The pain is distinct and often worsens with deep breathing or rapid movement. The pain does not dissipate with rest.
Who is at risk ?
DVT is more likely to occur if a person sits or lays for lengthy amounts of time. So being on bed rest for an extended period of time following a surgery, broken leg, or serious illness makes you at higher risk for blood pooling in the legs and a clot to form. Long plane, train, or car trips where you are sitting in a cramped position for lengthy periods of time will also put you at risk. Other risk factors include surgery during hip and knee replacements, smoking, supplemental estrogen from birth control pills, pregnancy, and being overweight.
Treatment and Prevention
Since Deep Vein Thrombosis is so likely to cause pulmonary embolisms the best prevention is early detection of DVT. If diagnosed with Deep Vein Thrombosis, there are measures a physician can take to help their patients lower the risk of future DVT and also pulmonary embolisms. This can include anticoagulation medications, such as Coumadin or warfarin. Patients put on these anticoagulants must test their PT/INR which can be easily performed with a CoaguChek XS meterin just a few quick minutes. This test tells how quickly the blood is clotting and if any medication dosage adjustments need to be made. The main prevention of pulmonary embolisms is to stop blood clots from occurring and reduce the size of any blood clots that have already occurred. Graduated compression stockings squeeze your legs helping to prevent blood from pooling in your legs. Make sure to get plenty of physical activity even following surgery, despite the pain, can be very beneficial in preventing a blood clot from forming. When traveling make sure to drink plenty of fluids, get up and move around as often as possible and make sure to stretch.