What Are the Basics of Pulmonary Embolism?

What is the definition of pulmonary embolism?

Pulmonary embolism is a common illness that blood flow is blocked at a pulmonary artery. That means when a blood clot gets caught in one of the arteries going from the heart to the lungs, pulmonary embolism will occur.

Pulmonary embolism doesn’t have different stages or types. Either the disease happens, or it does not.

This blockage can cause serious problems, and even cause death.


What are the risk factors of pulmonary embolism?

More than 90% of cases of pulmonary emboli are complications of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), blood clots in the deep vein of the leg or pelvis, which typically occur in patients who have had orthopedic surgery and patients with cancer or other chronic illnesses like congestive heart failure.

The common risk factors or causes of pulmonary ambolism are:

  • A broken hip or leg
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Childbirth
  • Prolonged bed rest
  • Cancer
  • Certain congenital heart defects
  • Obesity
  • Chest trauma
  • Sickle cell anemia

What are the symptoms of pulmonary embolism?

The symptoms of pulmonary embolism can be mild or severe, and they may occur suddenly. The common symptoms of pulmonary embolism are as follow:

  • Blue lips or nails
  • Severe and sharp chest pain or back pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bloody gunk you cough up
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fluid build-up in the lungs
  • A rapid pulse
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting


How to diagnose pulmonary embolism?

If you have some of the symptoms listed above, please call 911 and head for hospitals as soon as possible. There are several tests used to diagnose pulmonary embolism, they are:

  • Computed tomographic angiography (CTPA): It is a special type of X-ray test. Dye will be injected into your veins, thus the doctors can see the blood vessels in your lungs clearly on the X-ray.
  • Pulmonary angiography: It is the most accurate test to detect PE (pulmonary embolism). Insert a long, thin tube (catheter) into a large vein in you groin and into the arteries within your lung, then inject dye through the catheter, thus doctors can see the blood vessels within the lung clearly on X-ray.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): It is advisable for pregnant women.
  • Ventilation/perfusion (V/Q) scan: It uses a radioactive material to show which parts of your lungs are getting air flow (ventilation) and blood flow (perfusion).
  • Echocardiogram: It can’t show pulmonary embolism, but it can show whether you have heart strain caused by pulmonary embolism.

What are the treatments for pulmonary embolism?

Here come the most common ways to deal with the condition:

  • Anticoagulant or thrombolytic medications: Anticoagulants can not only keep the clot from getting bigger, but also keep new clots form forming; Thrombolytic medications like low-molecular-weight heparins can be self-injected at home, which include Dalteparin (Fragmin), Enoxaparin (Lovenox), and Tinzaparin (Innohep).
  • Compression stockings: They can keep pressure on your legs, so blood will not pool or clot.
  • Inferior vena cava filter: It won’t stop clots from forming, but just from getting to the lungs.
  • Catheter: A thin, flexible tube inserted in your thigh or arm will continue on to the lungs, thus removing the clot by using medicines to dissolve it through the tube.


What is the prognosis of pulmonary embolism?

Depending on different sizes and locations of the clot and how quickly the treatment is, the prognosis for pulmonary embolism would be different.

The bigger the clot, the worse the prognosis.

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* 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.