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Diagnosis / Diagnosis or Risk of Pulmonary Embolism (PE)

A pulmonary embolism (PE) is a sudden blockage of one or more of the arteries in your lungs. It is typically caused by a blood clot that has developed in another part of your body (most often in the legs or pelvis) that has broken free and traveled through your bloodstream to your lung. This blockage results in damage to the lungs due to restricted blood flow, and a decrease in the oxygen in your blood that is necessary for healthy organ function. Pulmonary embolism is ranked third (behind heart attack and stroke) for most common cardiovascular diseases, and more than 300,000 people in the United States suffer from PE each year.

PE is a serious condition that can cause permanent damage to your lungs, and can even be fatal. Most of the time, the clots are small, so while they can still cause damage, they aren’t deadly. However, identifying and treating PE is vital to preventing lasting damage and saving your life.

Pulmonary Embolism Causes

The most common cause of a pulmonary embolism is deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which is a medical condition in which blood clots form in veins deep in your body. These blood clots can be caused by a variety of things, including:

  • Injury – broken bones or muscle tears can damage blood vessels, causing clots.
  • Sedentary lifestyle – if you are inactive (sitting or standing) for long periods of time, it can affect the circulation in your lower legs and feet, causing a blood clot. This includes jobs where you sit or stand for most of the day, sitting during a long flight, or lying in bed after surgery.
  • Medical issues – some medical conditions cause blood to clot too easily, and certain medical treatments (like chemotherapy) can also cause clotting.

Symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism

In some cases, you may be aware that you have a DVT blood clot, but if you see any of the symptoms below, seek medical attention, as it could be a pulmonary embolism. The most common symptoms of PE include:

  • Sudden shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat
  • Sharp chest pain that worsens when you take a deep breath or cough
  • A cough that brings up bloody mucus
  • Swelling or pain, usually in your calf
  • Fever or sweating
  • Dizziness

You should see a doctor immediately if you notice any of these symptoms, especially if they are sudden or severe.

Risk Factors for Pulmonary Embolism

Any condition or issue that increases your risk of developing a blood clot also increases your risk of developing a PE blood clot. Some risk factors include:

  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • Pregnancy
  • Hormone therapy (birth control or hormone replacement)
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Obesity
  • Surgery that involves the legs, hips, abdomen or brain
  • Smoking
  • Age

If you have any of the risk factors listed above, seeking a diagnosis and preventative care can save your health and even your life.


Preventing a Pulmonary Embolism

While some risk factors may be unavoidable, changes in your lifestyle and preventative care can help you avoid a potentially serious health issue. The best way to prevent PE is to make changes that reduce your likelihood of developing blood clots in your legs, such as:

  • Walking – moving around encourages blood flow in your legs, so make sure you take a few minutes every hour to walk, even just from room to room.
  • Staying hydrated and avoiding alcohol and caffeine
  • Moving around as much as possible after surgery
  • Wearing compression socks

At IVC, we strive to provide you with the care you need if you are at risk for a pulmonary embolism or any type of blood clot. Call our office today at 503-612-0498 to talk to one of our team members.

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