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a blockage in an artery

Many people who have been in excellent health have had a health scare that can result in serious health complications. One serious complication that can inflict people is a pulmonary embolism (PE). A PE is a blockage in an artery of the lung that happens without warning. It occurs when a blood clot breaks loose and travels through the bloodstream into the lung. This condition is severe and could cause damage to the lungs, low oxygen levels in the blood, and damage to organs in the body due to lack of oxygen.

Risk Factors for PE

The cause of PE is usually a blood clot in the leg that is called deep vein thrombosis, and breaks away. Anyone can get PE, but certain risk factors make some people more susceptible than others.

  • Family history
  • Immobile or inactive for long periods of time: gravity causes the blood to stagnate in the lower parts of your body
  • Damage to a blood vessel wall: caused by trauma to your lower leg (bone fracture or muscle tear)
  • Hypercoagulability: caused by medications like birth control pills
  • Smoking
  • Cancer
  • Recent surgery
  • Pregnancy
  • Pre-existing medical conditions such as heart or lung disease
  • Age

If you believe you are at risk for a pulmonary embolism, you should speak to your doctor about what steps you can take to prevent one from occurring.

Symptoms of PE

If you have a pulmonary embolism, the symptoms you experience will depend on the size of the embolism, and how much of the lung is compromised. Also, if you have other health problems like lung or heart disease, your symptoms can become worse.

The most common symptoms of PE include:

  • Shortness of breath: happens suddenly and gets worse when you exert yourself
  • Chest pain: pain gets worse when you cough, exert yourself and does not go away when you rest
  • Cough: may be bloody or have blood streaks in the sputum

Other symptoms might include:

  • Pain in your back
  • Blue lips or nails
  • Dizzy and lightheaded
  • Sweating more than usual
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Pain or swelling in your leg (usually in your calf)

Any sign or symptom of a PE can be serious, and you should seek medical attention immediately.

Treatment Options for PE

If you have a pulmonary embolism, there are several options to help get rid of it. Your doctor will either give you a medicine for it or in more severe cases; there are procedures they can perform.

Medicines to Treat PE

  • Anticoagulant: a blood thinner will help prevent new clots from forming. You are given this through an injection, a pill, or through an IV.
  • Thrombolytics: A clot dissolver drug will be given to help speed up the breakdown of the blood clot. This is only used in emergencies since one of the side effects of this drug is bleeding.

Procedures to Treat PE

You might need to undergo a procedure to remove the blood clot. This becomes necessary if your PE is restricting blood flow to your lungs or heart.

  • Inferior Vein Cava filter: Filters for IVC are placed directly into the IVC, which is a small, wiry device that enables the blood to flow through the filter. The filter then catches the blood clots and stop them from going into the lungs or heart. Anyone who has deep vein thrombosis or PE, whether currently or in the past, can benefit from the Inferior Vena Cava filter for treatment of a blood clot.
  • Catheter-assisted thrombus removal: a catheter will suction out the large clots from your artery. Not a preferred method because it’s not entirely effective.
  • Open surgery: only used in an emergency situation when medication isn’t working or if you are in shock.

The blood-thinning medications can be used alone, or along with the Inferior Vena Cava filter to prevent and treat those who are at risk for PE. Some people who have other health conditions may not be able to take the blood thinners because they may cause dangerous bleeding. In this case, your physician may prescribe only the IVC filter. Treatment for PE generally last for three months with an assessment to determine if further treatment is needed.

Once the clot has been dissolved, opting for a lifestyle change may be the next option. A healthy diet and regular exercise will help with the improvement of many health conditions. You should make sure you have regular checkups with your doctor, especially if you have risk factors for blood clots.

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