A pulmonary embolism is a very serious complication of a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or clot in the leg. It is a blockage in an artery of one of the lungs, and if left untreated, can be fatal. A small clot that has traveled from somewhere else in the body, usually the leg, causes the obstruction. It is a serious condition and should be considered a medical emergency.
What Causes a Pulmonary Embolism?
There can be many causes for a pulmonary embolism, but the most common one is DVT. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, about 300,000 people experience a pulmonary embolism yearly as a result of DVT.
This is a type of blood clot that forms in the deep veins of the leg. When a pulmonary embolism occurs, a piece of this clot breaks off the main clot and travels to the lung. There are other causes of a pulmonary embolism, but they do not occur as frequently as DVT. They include:
- Air bubbles
- Fat deposits (these can be released when a bone is broken or when a limb is amputated)
- Collagen and other tissues
- Amniotic fluid
While there are few causes of a pulmonary embolism, there are some risk factors that can make you more likely to suffer a deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism.
- Long periods of inactivity such as bed rest during pregnancy or a lengthy recovery after major surgery. It can also happen if you sit for a long period such as when on a long flight or road trip
- Having surgery, or having recently had surgery, especially on the brain, hips, or belly
- Certain diseases can increase your risk of a pulmonary embolism including cancer, stroke, severe infections, or heart disease
- Pregnancy and childbirth (especially if you have a cesarean section)
- Taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy
- If you are extremely overweight or obese
- People who are over the age of 70
You can decrease your risk of both deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms by avoiding smoking, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a normal weight for your height and age. If When traveling long distances, you take a trip on a long flight or a road trip, take breaks and walk around regularly to prevent blood from pooling in the legs and allowing clots to form.
Symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism
The most common sign of a pulmonary embolism is difficulty breathing or shortness of breath that happens suddenly. Other symptoms can include:
- A sharp pain in the chest that gets worse if you cough or breathe deeply
- A cough that produces mucus that is pink in color and a foamy consistency
In some cases, other symptoms can appear in conjunction with a pulmonary embolism. These symptoms occur infrequently, but can include:
- Pain and/or swelling in the leg, particularly the calf
- Cyanosis (blue-colored skin)
- Skin that feels clammy
- Rapid heartbeat, irregular heart rhythm or heart palpitations
- Diaphoresis or excessive sweating
Since a pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening, it is important to see a vein doctor or emergency physician as soon as possible if you notice any of the above symptoms.
Pulmonary Embolism Treatment
Both deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms have similar treatments. The most common treatments are anticoagulant medications such as warfarin (Coumadin), heparin and clopidogrel (Plavix). Thrombolytic drugs can also be used to dissolve the clots in both cases, but are typically only used in severe or life-threatening conditions. This is because these medications can cause sudden and severe bleeding, which can also be fatal.
Other treatments can include surgically removing the clots or using a catheter to insert a filter into the vena cava, the central vein of the body. This prevents clots from passing from the heart to the lungs but is usually only used if the patient is unable to take anticoagulants or thrombolytics.
PRevent and Treat Pulmonary Embolism in Illinois
Are you looking for a vein doctor in the Chicago, IL area? Dr. Rimas Gilvydis offers state-of-the-art treatments for deep vein thrombosis and other venous diseases. We have clinics in Sycamore, IL, and Geneva, IL to meet your needs.
Contact us today to schedule your consultation. The caring professionals at Gilvydis Vein Clinic will also prepare you for your first visit by telling you what to expect and answer any questions you may have.