Having a pulmonary embolism (PE) is a very serious situation. It is a life-threatening event. There are different PE treatments, depending on the severity. It may also require ongoing treatment to prevent it from happening again.
What Is a Pulmonary Embolism
A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that travels to the lung. Many times, the clot originates from the leg, pelvis, arm, or the heart. The most common source of a PE is when a patient suffers from deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT can be caused by various reasons, including sitting in one place for too long. For instance, if traveling on a long airplane ride, you need to make sure you get up every so often to stretch your legs and get the blood flowing properly. Part of the DVT can break off and travel to the lungs. When the clot travels to a vessel in the lung that it cannot pass through, the blood flow is restricted in that part of the lung. This blockage prevents oxygen from getting to the body and prevents the removal of carbon dioxide. Symptoms of a PE include shortness of breath or even stoppage of blood to the heart.
How to Treat Pulmonary Embolism
PE treatment will vary depending on how severe the blood clot is and what kind of damage it has caused in the body. The following are some methods to treat PE:
- Blood thinners – This medicine will prevent the clots from enlarging and blocking more blood flow. They will help keep everything moving and functioning as it should be doing. There are pills you can take, like Warfarin, and injections, such as Lovenox, that can be self-injected. You must be careful when taking these kinds of medicines because it is easier to bleed, both internally and externally.
- Catheter and thrombolytic drugs – These are both used in emergency situations. The drugs will break up the clot and allow it to travel through the body. The catheter is inserted through the thigh or arm. The catheter will travel to the lung and remove the clot.
- Inferior vena cava filter – This is a filter that the doctor places in the vein to prevent clots from traveling up to the lungs. It is not a preventative measure, but can be used in conjunction with other methods to treat the clot.
- Compression stockings – These are designed to lessen any pooling of blood in the legs. Many times, after surgery, people will be given these stocking to stop DVT. If the stockings are not worn, a DVT could form and potentially travel to the lung, resulting in further surgery, or even death.
Preventing PE is the best thing to do. For PE treatment there are various medications and treatments that can be done in an effort to achieve management and prevention of the formation of blood clots. If a PE does happen, there are drugs that can help break up the clot, but there are also invasive methods, such as a catheter that will break up or remove the clot. This restores blood blow to the lung and to the heart (if it was also affected).
Identifying if you are at risk for PE is vital in managing prevention. Your doctor should review the symptoms and risk factors of PE. Knowing your risk and knowing what to look for is critical to survival. If you find yourself at risk – know your options, ask questions, and be an advocate for your health.