Pulmonary embolism is the blockage of an artery in the lungs. This condition is often caused when a blood clot develops in a vein in the leg, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). A pulmonary embolism develops if the DVT blood clot breaks free, travels to the lungs, and causes restricted blood flow. To help prevent any permanent lung damage or possible death, a pulmonary embolism needs to be treated by a medical professional immediately.
While rare mild cases may show no symptoms, an affected individual usually experiences a very sudden onset of difficult or fast breathing and severe chest pain. Other common symptoms may include a fast or irregular heartbeat, coughing up blood, and having pain/swelling in the calves or thighs. Sometimes, the clot can dissolve on its own, but serious complications like cardiac arrest and heart failure may result.
Some symptoms of a pulmonary embolism can be very similar to the symptoms of other conditions like a heart attack, asthma, panic attack or pneumonia. To distinguish from these other conditions and to confirm a diagnosis, a doctor may use a variety of tests which include imaging exams, blood tests, and performing an EKG (electrocardiogram) to look at how the heart is beating. Treatment options focus on decreasing the size of blockage, and preventing future embolisms from forming.
Factors that increase your risk for developing a pulmonary embolism may include increasing age, obesity, inherited blood clotting disorders, having a sedentary lifestyle, and extended periods of bed rest after major surgery. The chance of developing this condition can be greatly decreased with lifestyle modifications such as quitting smoking, increasing physical activity, and not sitting or lying in the same position for too long. If you believe you are experiencing a pulmonary embolism, contact your doctor immediately to discuss the most current prevention and treatment options.