Did you know that pulmonary embolism, or PE, is responsible for approximately 100,000 to 200,000 deaths per year in the United States?
Prompt recognition and adequate treatment are essential for reducing the high mortality rates associated with PE.
The condition can present itself as asymptomatic, which is why it’s crucial to stay informed and alert for possible warning signs. A pulmonary embolism may dissolve on its own, but if it’s not treated, it can quickly cause severe heart or lung damage and even death.
Pulmonary embolism may occur when:
- Veins have been injured either from a fracture or surgery, usually in the pelvis, hip, knee, or leg.
- As a result of cardiovascular diseases such as a heart attack, heart failure, or atrial fibrillation.
- Elevated clotting in the blood that can result from certain types of cancer, or from taking hormones such as birth control pills.
The Science Behind Pulmonary Embolism
PE is a thrombotic disorder that happens when an artery of the lungs gets blocked, preventing blood from flowing into the lungs.
This blockage is commonly known as embolism. The embolus is usually made of fat, an air bubble, or in most cases, a blood clot.
These blood clots are formed in the deep veins of the body, usually in the legs or arms. The blood clots travel in the bloodstream lodging in the pulmonary artery causing an embolism.
Are you at Risk?
There is no age range or sex particularly susceptible to PE. Anyone can be at risk for PE.
The risks increase if:
- You are pregnant or recently went through childbirth.
- You are overweight.
- You have had recent damage to a vein.
- You have had heart disease.
- You are inactive or immobile.
- You have a history of blood clots or abnormal blood clotting.
What to look for?
Diagnosing PE can turn out to be very challenging due to its diverse range of clinical presentations.
Some several common signs and symptoms can usually indicate the development of PE.
It’s important to note that symptoms vary from person to person, but these are the most common ones:
- Sudden shortness of breath.
- Pale, clammy or blueish color skin.
- Rapid pulse.
- Unexplained chest, arm, shoulder, neck, or jaw pain.
- Cough with or without mucus.
- Excessive sweating.
- Feeling anxious, light-headed.
- Faint or pass out.
- Low Blood pressure.
Don’t Wait. Treatment can Save your Life
According to Doctor John Bartholomew, MD, head of Vascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, “pulmonary embolisms are serious, but they’re also very treatable.” Amongst these treatments are:
- Immediate Treatment – Emergency treatments for specific symptoms. Treatment will depend on how soon you can access the treatment or on the symptom itself.
- Supportive Treatments – At some point, you might require supportive treatments such as respiratory support, hemodynamic treatments such as intravenous fluids, or vasopressors to help return your blood pressure back to normal.
- Thrombolysis is also known as a fibrinolytic treatment. It consists of giving the patient a blood dissolving drug. A drug in this class includes streptokinase.
- Anticoagulation Medicine –Anticoagulants are types of drugs that manipulate the blood coagulation process. The purpose of anticoagulants is to prevent blood clots from forming too easily. Taking these types of drugs may lead to unusual bleeding or risk of occult bleeding from any tissue or organ, resulting in posthemorrhagic anemia. Although anticoagulants produce these “side effects,” there are strategies used to reduce or stop bleeding.
- Surgery –Due to the presence of other medical conditions, some patients are unable to receive conventional treatments. An embolectomy is performed in these cases.
- Inferior Vena Cava (IVC) Filter – In cases where an anticoagulant treatment needs to be stopped or is not suitable, the patient may be fitted with an IVC filter.
- Specialized Treatments approved by the FDA like the lifesaving treatment by EKOS. This system is the first device cleared by the FDA for the treatment of Pulmonary Embolism.
Stay Informed and don’t Risk your Life
Now that you know what a pulmonary embolism is and what the most common symptoms that a person with PE has, you can take control of the disease and save your life or the life of someone you care.
Whether you already have PE and are looking for the best treatment, you are experiencing some symptoms but are not quite sure of the prognosis, or are reading this for a family member; we hope this article gave you some understanding of this hard-to-diagnoses disease and how it can be treated.