When you are diagnosed with a life-threatening condition such as a pulmonary embolism, It’s always important to get medical help, for that you can always consult Dr. Schemetterer Lawrence – an experienced vein surgeon serving Ohio.
It is very important to know all the facts about pulmonary embolism. In this blog post, we will take an in-depth look at pulmonary embolisms and its treatment options, the causes, and how to save yourself.
What is a Pulmonary Embolism?
A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that blocks and stops blood flow to an artery in the lung. In most cases, the blood clot starts in a deep vein in the leg or pelvis and travels to the lung.
On rare occasions, the clot forms in a vein in another part of the body. When a blood clot forms in one or more of the deep veins in the body, it’s called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Because one or more clots block blood flow to the lungs, pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening.
However, prompt treatment greatly reduces the risk of death. Taking measures to prevent blood clots in your legs will help protect you against pulmonary embolism.
What are the Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism?
Pulmonary embolism symptoms can vary greatly, depending on how much of your lung is involved, the size of the clots, and whether you have underlying lung or heart disease.
Common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath: This symptom usually appears suddenly. Trouble catching your breath happens even when resting and gets worse with physical activity
- Chest pain: you may feel like you’re having a heart attack. The pain is often sharp and can be felt when you breathe in deeply. The pain can stop you from being able to take a deep breath. You may also feel it when you cough, bend or lean.
- Fainting: you may pass out if your heart rate or blood pressure drops suddenly. This is called syncope. You can read more about this disease here: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17536-syncope
Other symptoms that can occur with pulmonary embolism include:
- A cough that may include bloody or blood-streaked mucus
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Excessive sweating
- Leg pain or swelling, or both, usually in the back of the lower leg
- Clammy or discolored skin, called cyanosis
What are the Causes of Pulmonary Embolism?
In many cases, multiple clots are involved. The portions of the lung served by each blocked artery can’t get blood and may die. This is known as a pulmonary infarction.
Pulmonary infarction makes it more difficult for your lungs to provide oxygen to the rest of your body. Occasionally, blockages in the blood vessels are caused by substances other than blood clots, such as:
- Fat from the inside of a broken long bone
- Part of a tumor
- Air bubbles
Risk factors for Pulmonary Embolism
Although anyone can develop blood clots that result in a pulmonary embolism, certain factors can increase your risk.
History of blood clots
You’re at a higher risk if you or any of your blood relatives, such as a parent or sibling, have had venous blood clots or a pulmonary embolism in the past.
Medical conditions and treatments
Some medical conditions and treatments put you at risk, such as:
- Heart disease: heart and blood vessel disease, specifically heart failure, makes clot formation more likely.
- Cancer: certain cancers – especially brain, ovary, pancreas, colon, stomach, lung, and kidney cancers, and cancers that have spread – can increase the risk of blood clots. Chemotherapy further increases the risk. You also have a higher risk of blood clots if you have a personal or family history of breast cancer and are taking tamoxifen or raloxifene.
you can read more about the expected life expectancy with lung cancer.
- Surgery: surgery is one of the leading causes of problem blood clots. For this reason, medicine to prevent clots may be given before and after major surgery, such as joint replacement.
- Disorders that affect clotting: some inherited disorders affect the blood, making it more likely to clot. Other medical disorders such as kidney disease also can increase the risk of blood clots.
- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): people who have severe symptoms of COVID-19 have an increased risk of pulmonary embolism.
Extended Periods of Inactivity May Cause Pulmonary Embolism
Blood clots are more likely to form during longer than usual periods of inactivity, such as:
- Bed rest: being confined to a bed for an extended period after surgery, a heart attack, leg fracture, trauma or any serious illness puts you at risk of blood clots. When your legs lie flat for long periods of time, the flow of blood through your veins slows down and blood can pool in your legs. This sometimes can result in blood clots.
- Long trips: sitting in a cramped position during lengthy plane or car trips slows blood flow in the legs, which increases the risk of blood clots.
Other causes include:
- Smoking: for reasons that aren’t well understood, tobacco use increases the risk of blood clots in some people, especially those who have other risk factors.
- Being overweight: excess weight increases the risk of blood clots – particularly in people with other risk factors.
- Supplemental estrogen: the estrogen in birth control pills and in hormone replacement therapy can increase clotting factors in the blood. Especially in those who smoke or are overweight.
- Pregnancy: the weight of a baby pressing on veins in the pelvis can slow blood return from the legs. Clots are more likely to form when blood slows or pools.
How to Prevent Pulmonary Embolism?
Preventing clots in the deep veins in your legs will help prevent pulmonary embolisms:
- Blood thinners: these medicines are often given to people at risk of clots before and after surgery. Also, they’re often given to people admitted to the hospital with certain medical conditions, such as heart attack, stroke, or complications of cancer.
- Compression stockings: compression stockings steadily squeeze the legs, helping veins and leg muscles move blood more efficiently. They offer a safe, simple, and inexpensive way to keep blood from pooling in the legs during and after surgery.
- Physical activity: moving as soon as possible after surgery can help prevent further pulmonary embolism issues and hasten recovery overall as keeping yourself in motion is healthy for your veins. This is one of the main reasons your nurse may push you to get up, even on your day of surgery, and walk despite the pain at the site of your surgical incision.
- Pneumatic compression: this treatment uses thigh-high or calf-high cuffs that automatically inflated with air and deflate every few minutes. This massages and squeezes the veins in your legs and improves blood flow.
How Does Your Doctor Treats Pulmonary Embolism?
The best thing you can do for your ultimate well-being is to visit a vascular surgeon. The first treatment of pulmonary embolism is a blood thinner or anticoagulant. This medication does not dissolve blood clots, rather, it prevents the formation of new clots while the body’s own system of enzymes dissolves existing clots. The medication is administered either intravenously or by mouth to prevent further blood clot formation. Treatment may be started as an inpatient or outpatient depending on the patient’s conditions and the extent of the pulmonary embolism and DVT.
Some special situations exist in which a DVT has formed or a pulmonary embolism has occurred while the patient is anticoagulated. Sometimes, a patient needs to stop their blood thinner in order to undergo surgery or due to bleeding. In these cases, another means of protection against further pulmonary embolism is needed, and the answer is a vena cava filter.
A vena cava filter is a device that prevents blood clots in the pelvis or legs from traveling to the lungs. The filters can either be permanent or retrievable, depending on your condition and what your doctor recommends.
The vena cava filter is inserted into the inferior vena cava – a large vein in the abdomen that carries blood from your lower body to your heart. Blood flows through the filter which traps larger blood clots before they reach your lungs.
The identification and treatment of DVT and pulmonary embolism can be life-saving. If you have a history of these types of problems or any symptoms of DVT or PE, contact us for an evaluation. This could save your life.
Dr. Lawrence Schmetterer – a Leading Vascular Surgeon of Choice in Northeast Ohio
Dr. Lawrence Schmetterer is an experienced and respected vein doctor in Youngstown, Ohio. With over 30 years of experience, he’s committed to providing high-quality patient care and improving his patients’ lives with the top vascular treatments in Ohio. Book an appointment today to achieve your absolute well-being goals!