Pulmonary Embolism (PE)
Pulmonary is a medical word that refers to the lungs.
An embolism is a clump of material (usually a blood clot) moving through your bloodstream. An embolism usually gets stuck when it gets to a smaller blood vessel. When it gets stuck, it blocks blood flow. Blocked blood flow can damage organs.
So, a pulmonary embolism is a clump of material that moves through your bloodstream and blocks a blood vessel in your lungs.
A pulmonary embolism blocks a blood vessel in your lungs, which makes it hard for blood to pass through your lungs and get oxygen
A small pulmonary embolism may not be dangerous but the bigger the embolism, the more harm it causes
The most common symptom is trouble breathing
A big pulmonary embolism can cause death right away
Doctors treat pulmonary embolism with blood thinners for a few months
If you keep having pulmonary embolisms, you may need to take blood thinners for the rest of your life
A pulmonary embolism is usually caused by a blood clot. Not all blood clots cause harm. For example, blood clots are needed to stop the bleeding in a cut. However, blood clots can form inside blood vessels when they aren’t needed, as in deep vein thrombosis. Most often, these unnecessary blood clots form in big veins deep inside your legs. These clots can break off and travel to your lungs or your heart.
Certain conditions increase your chance of having a pulmonary embolism including:
In general, you're more likely to get blood clots in your legs when you can't move your legs much. You might not move much if you break a leg. Also, when you have surgery or a long illness, you may have to lay in bed for awhile. Even taking a long plane flight can be a risk because it can keep you from moving your legs enough.
Sometimes other substances can cause a pulmonary embolism. These include:
A small pulmonary embolism might not cause any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they often include:
If the pulmonary embolism came from a blood clot in your leg, that leg may be swollen and painful. Sometimes you might not have any symptoms in your leg.
Pulmonary embolism can be hard for doctors to recognize. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and what risk factors you have.
Because the symptoms of pulmonary embolism can be like those of other types of heart and lung disorders, doctors usually start with general tests such as:
If your symptoms or test results suggest you might have a pulmonary embolism, your doctor may:
Less often, your doctor may do a lung scan. In a lung scan, the doctor injects a small amount of radioactive liquid in your vein. Then the doctor takes pictures of your chest with a camera that detects radiation. The lung scan can show whether blood is flowing to all parts of your lungs.
Doctors use different treatments depending on how severe the embolism is.
The blood thinner may be given by mouth, directly into your vein (IV), or by shots under your skin. When you go home, you'll take a blood thinner for a few months. If you have serious risk factors or have had several pulmonary embolisms, you may need to take the blood thinner for your whole life.
If you have a large, dangerous clot in your lungs that could be fatal, doctors may:
If you can't take blood thinners or you keep having clots despite blood thinners, doctors may:
Inferior Vena Cava Filters: One Way to Prevent Pulmonary Embolism
You usually need to take preventive measures if:
You have had pulmonary embolism or blood clots in your legs before
You're having certain types of surgery, particularly orthopedic surgery on your hips or legs
You have cancer or a disorder that makes your blood clot too much
You're going to be in a hospital bed for a long time without being able to get up
Doctors advise different measures depending on your circumstances. They may have you:
Take blood thinners for a little while right after surgery
Take blood thinners for a long time if you have had pulmonary embolism or blood clots before
Wear long, tight stockings (compression stockings) or inflatable boots that squeeze your lower leg muscles off-and-on to keep the blood moving well
Get out of bed and walk around as soon as possible after a surgery
You can help prevent blood clots on airplane flights by: