What is a Pulmonary Embolism?

Pulmonary embolism is a lung condition that can be challenging to identify because the symptoms are similar to several other medical conditions.  Early treatment of pulmonary embolism can be life-saving, so it’s essential to be able to recognize the signs of the condition. 

What Is A Pulmonary Embolism?

A pulmonary embolism (PE) is a blockage that occurs in the pulmonary artery in the lungs.   The blockage is usually caused by a blood clot that occurs in another part of the body and then travels to the lungs.  

Blood clots that cause PE normally come from deep within the legs.  This condition is known as deep vein thrombosis.  The blood clot restricts the flow of blood to the lungs, and this can be life-threatening.

The lungs are responsible for making fresh oxygen available to the body.  If the pulmonary artery is obstructed this will diminish the flow of blood and can potentially shut down the lung. 

A blood clot that detaches from the area it was formed and moves to another part of the body it’s called an embolus.  When an embolus blocks a blood vessel, it creates an embolism. 

PE may occur due to a sedentary lifestyle.  Sitting for long periods can cause the blood to pool in the legs.  This may lead to the formation of blood clots over time.  Blood clots occur naturally in response to an injury and generally dissolve after the injury heals.  However, there are situations in which the body is not able to break down the clot. 

Factors That Can Increase The Risk Of Pulmonary Embolism

  • Injury to muscle tissue
  • Family history of PE or venous blood clots
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy
  • Stroke
  • Enlarged leg veins

PE is one of several pulmonary diseases that can affect the lungs.  

Pulmonary Diseases

Pulmonary diseases are characterized by difficulty breathing.  Asthma, pneumonia, and pleural effusion (water on the lungs) are among the most common pulmonary diseases.  

Diagnosing Pulmonary Embolism

Diagnosing pulmonary embolism may be done using different types of tests, including a D-dimer blood test, chest x-ray, lung ventilation/perfusion scan (V/Q Scan), CT Scan, MRI, or a pulmonary angiogram.

If PE is not diagnosed and treated promptly, it can result in serious complications or death. 

Treating Pulmonary Embolism

A pulmonary embolism is best treated by a doctor who specializes in pulmonology.  Pulmonology is the area of medicine that focuses on diseases that affect the respiratory tract.  

Symptoms of PE include shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pains, and coughing.  PE can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to those of other pulmonary diseases.  That’s why it’s so important to consult with a specialist with the necessary expertise in diagnosing and treating the condition.  

Treatment for pulmonary embolism centers on inhibiting the growth of the existing blood clot and preventing the formation of new ones.  

PE is commonly treated with anticoagulant medicines, also known as blood thinners.  This type of treatment involves the use of blood thinner tablets that are taken for 3 months or more.  The duration of treatment varies depending on the underlying cause. 

In cases where the blood clot does not dissolve, thrombolytics are administered intravenously to thin the blood and dissolve the clot.  This is an aggressive treatment usually reserved for life-threatening cases. 

Surgery using a catheter is another method that can be used to treat PE.  The catheter is positioned beside the clot, allowing the surgeon to remove or break up the clot.

It’s possible to prevent pulmonary embolism by not sitting for long periods, getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and keeping a healthy weight. 

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