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Pulmonary embolism basics

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Pulmonary embolism is a condition of the lungs that is considered as a serious condition. It occurs due to a clot present in any part of the body, usually the leg that travels and embeds itself in the lung. This leads to a blockage in the lung leading to lack of blood flow into the lung tissue. 

Overview of Pulmonary Embolism

Pulmonary embolism is considered a life threatening condition. It occurs due to blockage in the artery of the lung due to a blood clot, fat or air bubble or a tumor tissue. This leads to shortness of breath and chest pain. In some cases, a large blockage can cause sudden collapse and death. In most cases, blood clot due to deep vein thrombosis in the leg is the main cause for pulmonary embolism. Prompt treatment will help save the life of the patient suffering from a pulmonary embolism.

Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism

There are many symptoms of pulmonary embolism of which some may include:

  • Sudden coughing with bloody mucus
  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting spells
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Chest pain
  • Sharp, burning, stabbing sensation in the chest
  • Pain that radiates to the arm, back, neck and even jaw
  • Pain that worsens when one coughs, sneezes or bends

In some cases, one may suffer from sudden shock and collapse. A few suffer from cardiac arrest. Thus, if one develops these symptoms, they should seek immediate medical help to avoid such complications.

What Causes Pulmonary Embolism?

The main cause as mentioned in the above paragraph is deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Some other causes of pulmonary embolism are as follows:

  • Long term immobilization due to an injury, pregnancy, surgery makes one prone to developing clots in other areas of the body. These clots can break from their site of origin and travel to the lungs getting embedded there.
  • A fracture in the hip or thigh bone that causes large fatty material from the bones to travel up to the lungs.
  • A small piece of tumor may break free and travel down to the lungs blocking the lung artery.

Diagnosis of Pulmonary Embolism

The diagnosis of pulmonary embolism is made based on clinical presentation. Apart from this, the doctor may carry out certain tests like:

  • X ray of the chest
  • Chest angiogram
  • Pulmonary angiogram
  • ECG
  • Doppler ultrasound of the legs
  • Echocardiogram, etc.

Treatment of Pulmonary Embolism

The primary treatment of pulmonary embolism includes anticoagulant therapy. This includes administration of heparin or warfarin to prevent the blood clots from worsening. It also helps in thinning the blood that helps prevent more clots from forming. In case of pregnant women, they are given low molecular weight heparin after delivery.

Another therapy called, thrombolytic therapy is given to the patient. This is a clot-dissolving therapy wherein medications like streptokinase or urokinase are administered. The patient is kept on oxygen to maintain the oxygen levels in blood.

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Prognosis of Pulmonary Embolism

It is difficult to judge about the outcome of pulmonary embolism in individual patients. Prompt treatment may help save a life. However, the risk of death is higher in older patients and those with an underlying disease.

Prevention of Pulmonary Embolism

Prevention depends on early detection of deep vein thrombosis. Also, those whose movements are restricted due to an injury or illness, should make sure they drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. They should also be given heparin injections under the guidance of their doctor. Wearing compression stockings will help with blood circulation. Exercise and walks will help keep away blood clot formation.

Pulmonary embolism is a serious condition that should not go untreated. The minute one observes shortness of breath, fainting spells and coughs up blood tainted phlegm, they should seek medical help. Prompt treatment helps in quick recovery and saving a life.


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