A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in the lungs, and there are more than three million cases in the United States every year.
A blood clot is a mass of platelets growing together, most often to help stop blood flow in an injury. Sometimes clots form when they should not. When it occurs in the arteries between the heart and the lungs, it causes an embolism. The blood clot is blocking the normal blood flow and can lead to serious (and sometimes fatal) complications.
Signs of Pulmonary Embolism
Symptoms vary according to the size of the blood clot and how much of the lung is affected. Some of the more common symptoms associated with blood clots in the pulmonary artery are coughs that sometimes produce pink mucus or blood, shortness of breath, and chest pains that worsen with activity or when you cough.
There are also less common signs that include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Excessive sweat
- Clammy skin
- Fingertips and lips tinged blue
- Rapid breathing
Whether your symptoms are severe or mild, you should seek medical attention right away before there are serious complications.
Risk Factors of Pulmonary Embolism
Problems with blood clots in the pulmonary arteries increase with age. If you have a family history of venous blood clots or pulmonary embolism, then you are at a higher risk for developing one yourself. The most common risk factors for developing a pulmonary embolism include:
- Heart disease: If you suffer from cardiovascular disease, heart failure in particular, you are at a higher risk for a blood clot to form
- Surgery: Leading cause of blood clots. This is why you are given medication to prevent clots before and after major surgery.
- Cancer: Pancreatic, ovarian, lung cancers, and most cancers with metastasis, can cause increased levels of substances that help blood cot. Undergoing chemotherapy increases your risk of a clot.
Other risk factors for developing a pulmonary embolism include:
- Prolonged immobility including:
- Bed rest: When the lower part of your body is horizontal for long periods, your venous blood slows, and the blood can pool in your legs.
- Long trips in the car or on a plane: Sitting in the same position can slow the blood flow in your legs, which can lead to a blood clot forming.
- Taking hormone-based supplements: Estrogen birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can increase clots in your blood
- Pregnancy: the weight of the baby pressing on the veins in your pelvic region can slow the blood flow to your legs. This can cause clots to form when the blood slows or begins to pool.
Treatment Options for Pulmonary Embolism
Blood thinners are the primary treatment course for pulmonary embolism. They form a two-prong defense, keeping blot clots from growing and stopping any new clots from developing. Warfarin and heparin are the two most prescribed blood thinners. Warfarin treats and prevents blood clots. It is taken by mouth once a day. Heparin decreases the chances of blood clots forming. It is given as an injection under the skin or into a vein.
You can also seek EKOS therapy for pulmonary embolism. Using the EkoSonic Endovascular System, doctors can lace a catheter into the pulmonary artery in the lung. Through this catheter, they deliver ultrasound energy into a clot to loosen it. A medication called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is also used to dissolve clots.
Tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is an enzyme that destroys blood clots by dissolving them. It is used as an emergency treatment to prevent stroke and heart attack. This innovative and new strategy for fighting blood clots is saving hundreds of lives in the United States.
A pulmonary thrombectomy is a surgical procedure used in emergencies to remove clotted blood from pulmonary arteries. It is during percutaneous thrombectomy procedures that tPA is administered. During surgical thrombectomy, a small incision is made in a blood vessel, and blood clots are removed through it.
While blood clots in pulmonary blood vessels are dangerous, they can be treated when detected in time. Even emergencies have a high chance of being successfully resolved with procedures such as EKOS Therapy and tPa.