Pulmonary Embolism: Symptoms, Treatment

Overview

A pulmonary embolism (PE) describes the sudden blockage in the lung artery. It occurs when a clot in another part of the body, often the leg or arm, travels through the bloodstream and becomes lodged in the blood vessels of the lung. This can restrict blood flow to the lungs, lowers oxygen levels in the lungs and increases blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries.

PE can lead to permanent damage to the lungs, and other organs in your body due to insufficient oxygen. If the clot is large or if there are many clots, PE can be a life-threatening condition. According to data, one-third of people with PE who go undiagnosed or untreated result in death. So, prompt diagnosis and treatment are quite important for this disorder.

Causes

PE occurs when a blood clot gets wedged into an artery in your lungs. Most commonly, these blood clots come from the deep veins of your legs. This condition is known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Therefore, the risk factors for PE are similar to those for DVT. These factors include:

  • Cancer or heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Injury or damage like bone fractures or muscle tears
  • A family history of embolisms
  • Age over 60 years
  • Birth control pills
  • Prolonged immobility because of bed rest or sitting or standing for long periods of time

Symptoms

Depending on the size and location of the clot, signs and symptoms of PE may vary. Notable symptoms of the disease include:

  • Shortness of breath, which is the most common symptom
  • Chest pain that may extend into your arm, jaw, neck, and shoulder
  • Coughing up blood
  • Anxiety
  • Leg pain or swelling
  • Fever
  • Clammy or bluish skin
  • Fainting
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness
  • Weak pulse
  • Excessive sweating

Diagnosis

For people with underlying heart or lung disease, PE is especially difficult to diagnose. Your doctor will combine physical exam and lab tests to make better diagnosis. These tests include:

  • A D dimer blood test to look for clot-dissolving substance in the body
  • Chest X-ray to show images of your heart and lungs
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Pulmonary angiogram, in which the doctor inserts a long, thin tube (catheter) into the vein to inject dye and then show images of blood vessels inside the lung on an X-ray
  • Ultrasound of the heart
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the legs or lungs

Treatment

If you are diagnosed with PE, you need medical treatment right away. The goals of treatment are to break up clots and help keep other clots from forming. Treatment options include medicines and surgeries. Medications that are effective for PE are:

Surgical treatments for PE involve:

  • Clot removal.

If you have a very large, life-threatening clot in your lung, your doctor may suggest removing it via a thin, flexible tube (catheter) threaded through your blood vessels.

  • Vein filter.

This is an interventional procedure in which a filter is placed inside the body’s largest vein (vena cava filter) so clots can be trapped before they enter the lungs.

  • Open surgery.

Doctors use open surgery only in emergency situations when a person is in shock or medications aren’t working to break up the clot.


Keyword: pulmonary embolism (PE).

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.