A pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when a blockage obstructs a major artery in the lung. The blockage is a blood clot that can be any shape or size and can lead to serious damage, including death, if left untreated.
What are the Signs of PE
The signs and symptoms of a PE will depend on the size and severity of the blood clot, as well as how much of your lung is affected.
The most common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain that gets worse when you cough or exert yourself
- Cough: may have blood in it or you might cough up pink, foamy mucus
Other less common symptoms include:
- Excessive sweating
- Dizzy and lightheaded
- Lips or fingertips turn blue
- Clammy skin
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms that you need to seek medical help right away.
Who is at Risk for PE
Several factors can put you at risk for a pulmonary embolism or increase your chances of developing deep vein thrombosis.Some of the risk factors include:
- Family history
- Over 60 year old
- Recent major surgery
- Cancer and have gone through chemotherapy
- Take estrogen or testosterone
- Sedentary lifestyle
- History of heart disease, stroke, or lung problems
- Injuries to your legs including a torn muscle or fracture
If you are at risk for PE, then it is important to talk to your doctor about what you can do to make sure you do not develop a blood clot.
How is PE Diagnosed
If you think you might have PE, there are different ways your doctor can find out. First, your doctor will start with a physical exam. If your legs are swollen, tender, discolored, or warm, these can all be signs of a clot.
Other ways your doctor can diagnose a pulmonary embolism:
- Blood test: test for the clot-dissolving substance D timer. High levels could suggest a blood clot. A blood test can also measure how much oxygen is on your blood. If you have a clot in the blood vessel of your lungs, it can lower your oxygen levels.
- Chest x-ray: shows doctors, your heart, and lung in detail. It is used to rule out conditions that can appear to be PE but could be another problem.
- Spiral CT scan: the scanner rotates around your body to create 3-D images. The scan can detect abnormalities in the arteries of your lungs with better precision than a regular CT scan.
- Ultrasound: Duplex ultrasonography uses sound waves to check for blood clots in the veins of your thighs.
- Pulmonary Angiography: a catheter is inserted in a large vein, usually in your groin, and is then threaded into your heart than your pulmonary arteries. A special dye is injected into the catheter. An x-ray is taken to see the dye travel along the arteries in your lungs. The test is only performed after the other ones have failed.
What are the Treatment Options for PE
PE is usually treated with anticoagulant medications, also known as blood thinners. If you have a pulmonary embolism, you will be given a blood thinner right away. The medication is used to slow the formation of more blood clots from forming.
Another option is thrombolytic medication, which is used during more serious situations. This type of medicine for PE is also referred to as clot-busting medication. The majority of the time, it is given through the vein with intravenous (IV) infusion sometime during a medical emergency. The medication has to be monitored because it can be life-altering because one major side effect is bleeding.
Pulmonary embolism is a serious matter, and if you are at risk for one, then you should talk to your doctor right away. Make sure you are aware of the signs of a potential PE and go to an emergency care center if you are experiencing symptoms.