What is a Pulmonary Embolism?

Embolism refers to a blood clot in an artery. Sometimes other materials can block an artery other than a clot such as a bubble of air, residue from a fracture, cancer cells, and more. These two words when used together, pulmonary embolism refers to a blood clot (s) in an artery leading to or away from the lungs. In some cases, an embolism seems to possibly be a hereditary factor. These embolisms originate in the legs and rarely anywhere else in the body. 

Family History of Embolism and Why You Need to Speak with Your Doctor

Your doctor may not be aware of your family history for embolisms. It is important to inform your doctor of any information that could put you at risk for serious health problems. A pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening so it is vital that you do everything you can to prevent them from forming. Pulmonary embolisms generally form in your leg(s) and then travel to your lungs The only way you can prevent a clot in your legs from traveling to your lungs is being aware of the signs and symptoms and alert your doctor as soon as possible or visit the nearest hospital emergency room. 

Signs and Symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism

Signs and symptoms of an embolism are not the same for everyone. You may have one or all of the symptoms. The deciding factors include how many clots are present, the size of the clots, where the clot is situated, and if you have a chronic heart or lung disease. If you suspect a blood clot go directly to the hospital emergency room. 

Unusual shortness of breath that happens all of a sudden and increases when you exert yourself such as walking a short distance and never gets any better even if you stop to rest. If you have a history of lung or heart disease many times the shortness of breath on exertion improves when resting. 

If you have heart disease you may have experienced chest pain at some point that goes away when you rest. One of the signs of an embolism is chest pain that does not go away when resting. This type of chest pain can become worse when you try to take a deep breath, during eating, coughing, walking, or bending over. Your lungs cannot get adequate oxygen to function properly.

When a clot is lodged in an artery of the lung it makes you cough. Sometimes you may cough up blood-tinged sputum.

A blood clot settling in an artery of the lungs causes a low-grade fever, excessive sweating, and dizziness. Sometimes you may experience a clammy feeling to your skin. Others may notice a blue tinge to your lips. You may experience pain in a leg and your leg may look swollen. 

What Puts You at Risk for an Embolism?

  • Hereditary factors increase your risk of clots when your blood has a disorder that causes it to clot more readily. 
  • Chronic conditions such as cardiac disease and cancer are risk factors. Most doctors order a blood thinner and therapy for pulmonary embolisms for a few days after a major surgical procedure to help avoid blood clots from happening especially if your ability to move about voluntarily is limited. It is advised to get up and move as soon as the doctor says you can.
  • If you are confined to bed rest or even planning a long trip where you cannot get up and walk often leaves you at risk. 
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight 
  • Taking birth control pills 
  • The normal course of pregnancy increases your risk of clots. 

Treatment Options for an Embolism

  • Always drink plenty of water. Coffee and tea do not count as your hydration source.
  • When in a car, train, or airplane be sure to get up and move. 
  • Your doctor may order a blood-thinning medication if you have had clots or run a high risk for clots. 
  • You may have to wear compression stockings which help to message the arteries in your legs. 
  • When you get a chance to sit and rest do so with your legs elevated for short periods. 

Call to Action

If you suspect, you have a clot in your lung go to the nearest emergency room.