Pulmonary embolism, a condition typically characterized by the blockage of the lungs’ arteries from clots that travelled from the legs, can end your life. But you can take a sigh of relief as it can be treated and prevented! The trick is in being aware of its symptoms, as well as being prepared for its diagnostic tests and treatment methods.
Beware of the Symptoms
If you have been diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis (DVT), then your risk for pulmonary embolism increases. This is because the blood clot in your deep vein can travel via your bloodstream to your lungs, thus, causing the blockage.
But since DVT often doesn’t have symptoms, you have to be aware of the symptoms of pulmonary embolism. Keep in mind that your symptoms will significantly vary from other patients. But the most common signs and symptoms are:
- Sudden onset of shortness of breath, which becomes worse with physical exertion
- Chest pain similar to a heart attack, which can also worsen when coughing, eating, and breathing deeply and which will not go away even with rest
- Cough accompanied by blood-streaked saliva
You may also experience other symptoms, such as clammy skin, excessive sweating, lightheadedness, and pain or swelling in the legs, usually in the calves.
When in the emergency room or in a clinic, your doctor will likely recommend a few or several of these diagnostic tests:
- Blood tests to determine the presence of D dimer, a clot-dissolving substance, as well as the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.
- Chest x-ray to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms
- Ultrasound to determine if there are blood clots in the thighs
- Spiral CT scan
- Pulmonary angiogram
- Magnetic resonance imaging
Your doctor will likely only start medications when your case has been definitively diagnosed with pulmonary embolism.
Rejoice in the Treatments
When your pulmonary embolism was detected in its early stages, you have higher chances of recovery. Your doctor will likely recommend the following treatment plan with the specific combination depending on the severity of your case.
Your condition can improve with medications including but not limited to:
- Anticoagulants, or blood thinners, which work akin to a double-edged sword – these prevent new clots from forming and aids the body in breaking up existing clots. The first treatment will involve injections followed by oral anticoagulants, such as Coumadin (warfarin).
- Thrombolytics, or clot dissolvers, speed up the process of dissolving clots. These are only used in life-or-death situations because of the high risk of sudden and severe bleeding.
When medications aren’t enough, your doctor will probably recommend clot removal and a vein filter. But these are considered as last-resort options so your doctor will discuss the pros and cons first.