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Pulmonary Embolism

PULMONARY EMBOLISM (PE)

What Causes a PE?

The heart is responsible for delivering oxygen to the body via the blood.  When the oxygen is used up, the blood is returned to the lungs by the right heart and the pulmonary artery. Sometimes, this artery can be blocked as a blood clot in the leg travels upward and becomes trapped.  Blood flow to the lungs become restricted, placing more strain on the heart due to the obstruction.  In very large clots, all flow to the lungs and then the rest of the body is completely stopped and can result in a potentially fatal condition, if not treated promptly.

What are the Signs/Symptoms of PE?

Signs to look for if a pulmonary embolus is suspected:

  • Chest pain upon breathing

  • Racing heart

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Acute shortness of breath

  • Fever

  • Coughing up blood

  • Leg pain or swelling

  • Excessive sweating

How is a PE Diagnosed?

Pulmonary embolus is a serious condition that requires rapid diagnosis to prevent fatal complications. Two common imaging studies that are widely available for diagnosis is a CT scan of the chest using contrast and a nuclear ventilation scan for those individuals that have kidney disease. 

What is the Treatment for PE?

Treatment options vary depending on the size and location of the blood clot. If the main pulmonary artery is involves where blood flow is occluded to both lungs, it is called a saddle embolus, and requires immediate removal. Combination of systemic or catheter directed thrombolytics with mechanical removal quickly reduces clot burden and ensures adequate blood flow to the lungs and the body.   Small blood clots are commonly less symptomatic and are treated with blood thinners.