Pulmonary Embolism Defined
A pulmonary embolism (‘PE’) is a blood clot (‘thrombus’) that enters the lungs from having broken away from a vein or artery located in the legs, the pelvis area, or arms. A clot will stop the required blood flow to the lungs, thus cutting off the air needed to reach the lungs.
Depending on where in the body a clot forms, it can cause a heart attack or a stroke. The veins in the leg or arm are common locations for clots to form, this is called a deep vein thrombosis.
PE is life-threatening and it can occur in men, women, young, old, the sick or someone well. Several years ago, Serena Williams developed a PE clot and was hospitalized.
Symptoms of PE can include:
Common signs and symptoms include:
- Bluish or purplish skin coloring
- Chest pain
- Cough phlegm with blood
- Irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in calf and/or legs
- Unusual sweating
How to Treat PE
There are different ways to treat PE which can include the following:
1. Anticoagulants: anticoagulants are called blood-thinners. The medications are delivered via injections subcutaneously, capsules, and liquids.
2. Thrombolytic or Thrombolysis therapy: Thrombolytic therapy is a PE treatment that is designed to break up clots with drugs. A common drug used for thrombolytic therapy is known as “tissue plasminogen activator (tPA).” Thrombolysis therapy is administered in the case of an emergency.
During this treatment, a physician injects medication into the blood vessels which are designed to dissolve clots. In extreme cases, a doctor may need to place a catheter into your blood vessels where the clot is located. Then the medication is administered.
3. Compression stockings: As a PE treatment, doctors may prescribe knee-high stockings that compress your legs to prevent blood from clotting. Compression stockings in relationship to a possible PE diagnosis, are used to put pressure on your legs so blood flows easily.
The arteries that take oxygenated blood to your legs can relax allowing blood to flow without any interruptions and to help push blood flow back toward your heart. Compression stockings are made from a stretchy fabric which fits snugly around your leg. They can also be purchased over the counter with a doctor’s recommendation.
4. Interventional method: An interventional technique is when a doctor puts a filter inside the body’s vena cava vein that leads to the lungs. The filter design is to trap clots before they travel to the lungs or other parts of the body.
The filtering process allows blood to pass through unheeded and flow to the heart. The interventional filter can be placed within the abdomen, the arm, the leg, or the neck.
5. Surgery: Surgery is not greatly favored, but when necessary, a pulmonary thrombectomy can be performed to remove clotted blood from the pulmonary arteries. If surgery is to be performed then it will be an open-chest surgery where an incision is made within a nearby blood vessel that contains the blood clot.
Advanced medical devices and techniques are being researched and tested to treat PE like 3D screening and imaging procedures to identify hidden clots. Thus, there would be no need for invasive measures like using filter insertions or surgical procedures.