is a pulmonary embolism?
A pulmonary embolism is the name given to a blood
clot that lodges in one of the blood vessel that supplies the lungs with blood.
It is a very serious condition, one that can cause death within hours if not
does a pulmonary embolism occur?
Blood clots can form in various veins throughout
the body. Sometimes such a clot, known as an embolus, can detach itself and
flow with the blood around the body. In the vast majority of cases, the clot
comes from a vein in the legs and came about as a result of deep vein thrombosis
(DVT). Occasionally, the embolus is not a blood clot at all, but an air bubble,
globule of fat, or tissue detached from a tumour.
If the embolus becomes lodged in one of the pulmonary
arteries that supply the lungs, it can seriously affect the flow of oxygen and
blood through the body. The condition can onset rapidly, does not always exhibit
any symptoms, and can be fatal in one in 10 cases.
increases the chances of having a pulmonary embolism?
In most cases, people who have a pulmonary embolism
are already suffering from another complaint, usually a heart condition or deep
vein thrombosis. Some people are more at risk than others, however, and they
- Older people, especially those who are bedridden
- People who have or have had cancer.
- Anyone who has recently undergone surgery, especially
in the abdomen.
- Anyone who has a relative who has suffered a
pulmonary embolism. There seems to be a greater risk for family members of
those who have already had one.
- Overweight people have a slightly greater chance
of suffering an embolism.
- People who have recently suffered a fracture
of the pelvis or legs.
- Pregnant women and women who have recently given
are the symptoms of a pulmonary embolism?
Sometimes there are no symptoms at all. However,
many people who experience a pulmonary embolism will feel some or all of the
- Sudden inexplicable breathlessness
- Sudden, sharp chest pain
- Coughing up blood mixed with phlegm
- An uncomfortable, nervous or anxious feeling
- Exhaustion and a mild fever for a number of
In nearly every case of embolism, hospital treatment
is essential because of the possibility of a greater embolus occurring subsequently.
When one of these larger emboli become lodged in the lung, urgent life-saving
medical attention will be required. The symptoms of a severe pulmonary embolism
- Rapid onset of pain
- Becoming pale, and experiencing cold, sweaty
- Falling unconscious
It is very difficult to revive someone in this
condition without medical attention. They need to be transferred to hospital
can a pulmonary embolism be treated?
Unfortunately, a pulmonary embolism can be difficult
to diagnose, as it may not display symptoms. When it does exhibit symptoms,
they can be easily mistaken for other complaints, such as a cardiac arrest.
If a pulmonary embolism is diagnosed, the key issue
is to stabilise the patients cardiovascular system until the embolus can
be dissolved. This process can take up to a fortnight.
People with a diagnosed embolism receive anti-coagulant
drugs to thin the blood and lessen the chance of another embolus developing.
They may have to receive oxygen treatment also, as the lungs ability to
function is impaired. Sometimes it is possible to dissolve the embolus; other
times it is advisable to operate to remove it. Often, it is allowed to resolve
itself under medical supervision.
People who have had an embolism in the past may
find that they must take anti-coagulant for some time, possibly even the rest
of their lives, to avoid another embolus developing.
If you feel any of the symptoms of a pulmonary
embolism, especially if the symptoms develop very quickly, you must get to hospital
to top of page