A pulmonary embolism (PE) is a condition in which a blood clot blocks one or more arteries in the lungs. This can cause serious problems, including shortness of breath, chest pain, and even death.
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Warning Signs of Pulmonary Embolism
The most common warning sign of a pulmonary embolism is sudden chest pain that worsens when breathing deeply or coughing. Other symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing up blood
- Rapid heart rate
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Anxiety or restlessness
- Symptoms of DVT like pain, swelling, or redness in the leg
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. A PE is a medical emergency that can be fatal if not treated promptly.
What causes pulmonary embolism?
The most common cause of a pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in the leg, also known as a deep vein thrombosis, which breaks free and travels through the circulation to the lungs.
Who is at Risk for Pulmonary Embolism?
Anyone can develop PE, but some people are at higher risk than others. This includes people who have had surgery. Other risk factors for DVT include being overweight or obese, smoking, being pregnant, taking birth control pills, and having certain health conditions such as cancer or heart disease.
How is pulmonary embolism diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects that you have a pulmonary embolism, they will likely order a CT scan or MRI of your chest. These imaging tests can show whether there is a clot present in your lungs. Your doctor may also order additional tests, such as an echocardiogram or lung perfusion scan, to get more information about how the clot is affecting your lung function.
What is the treatment for pulmonary embolism?
The goal of treatment for a pulmonary embolism is to prevent the clot from getting bigger and to prevent new clots from forming. Treatment options include anticoagulant medications like heparin or warfarin that help prevent new clots from forming, as well as thrombolytic medications that dissolve existing clots. In some cases, your doctor may also recommend surgery to remove the clot. If you have severe PE, you may need to be hospitalized so that you can be monitored closely and given medication through an IV.
What are the complications of Pulmonary Embolism?
Pulmonary embolism can be a very serious condition with potentially life-threatening complications. These can include low oxygen levels in the blood, heart failure, and damage to lung tissue. In some cases, PE can lead to death.
How can I prevent PE?
The best way to prevent PE is to avoid DVT in the first place. To do this, you should stay active and move around frequently if you’re immobile for long periods of time (like during a long plane ride). You should also avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time without moving around. Additionally, wear loose-fitting clothing and avoid crossing your legs when seated. If you have any risk factors for DVT, your doctor may prescribe blood thinners as a preventative measure.
Pulmonary embolisms can be serious—even fatal—if not treated promptly. If you experience any sudden chest pain or shortness of breath, it’s important to seek medical attention right away. There are several factors that can increase your risk of developing PE, so it’s important to be aware of those risks and take steps to reduce them when possible. By being proactive and seeking medical attention as soon as possible if you experience any warning signs, you can help improve your chances of making a full recovery from a pulmonary embolism.