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
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
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
- Cancer or heart disease
- 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
Depending on the size and location of the
clot, signs and symptoms of PE may vary. Notable symptoms of the disease
- Shortness of breath, which is the most common symptom
- Chest pain that may extend into your arm, jaw, neck, and shoulder
- Coughing up blood
- Leg pain or swelling
- Clammy or bluish skin
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Weak pulse
- Excessive sweating
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
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
- Anticoagulants, or blood thinners, to keep blood clots from getting larger and stop new clots from forming
- Thrombolytics to dissolve blood clots if you have large clots that cause severe symptoms or other serious complications
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).