Pulmonary embolism is a condition when the pulmonary artery is blocked. The blood vessels called pulmonary arteries carry blood from the heart to your lungs. Find out the causes of pulmonary embolism, as well as what treatments can be done including surgery and how to live afterward, in the article How To Prevent Pulmonary Embolism: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Causes, and Treatment.
What is a pulmonary embolism?
A pulmonary embolism refers to a blockage in one of the pulmonary vessels. In many cases, the condition is caused by clots of frozen blood flowing to the lungs of the legs, or less frequently than other parts of the body (deep vein thrombosis).
Clots block blood flow to the lungs, so the condition can be life-threatening if not treated immediately. You can prevent pulmonary embolism by taking steps to prevent blood clots from your legs.
How common is this condition?
In many cases, pulmonary embolism is a condition commonly experienced by the elderly, especially those over 70 years of age and obese. Even so, this condition can also attack young people because of hereditary thrombotics.
A pulmonary embolism is considered dangerous because it can lead to death. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States, the number of people with pulmonary embolism in the U.S. reaches 200,000 people each year, and nearly a third end up dying.
What causes pulmonary embolism?
Pulmonary embolism occurs when the arteries that carry blood flow to the lungs are blocked. Most often, this blockage is caused by a bloodclot.
The blood clot can occur due to several causes, such as:
Low physical activity
Low physical activity can cause blood to gather in the lower part of the body, especially the lower limbs.
A person who does not move for a long period may experience a slowing blood flow condition. This occurs mainly in individuals after experiencing severe illnesses such as stroke, postoperative, injury while traveling long distances by airplane, train, or car.
Damage to blood vessels
When blood vessel damage occurs, the inner lining of the blood vessels may experience narrowing or blockage.
This could lead to blood clots. Damage to these blood vessels can result from injuries such as fractures or severe muscle damage.
Blood clotting disorders
Blood clotting disorders cause the formation of blood clots to become easier to arise. This blood clot also increases the risk of pulmonary embolism. Conditions that increase the risk of blood clots in the body such as cancer or heart failure.
In addition to blood clotting disorders, embolisms in the arteries of the lungs can also be caused by other materials, such as:
- Air bubbles
- Fat from broken bone marrow
- Collection of bacteria, fungi, or parasites
- Part of the tumor
- Amniotic fluid
Some other factors may also increase the risk of pulmonary embolisms, such as being over the age of 60, having a history of blood clots in the body, having family members with a history of blood clots in the body, being overweight or obese, pregnancy, and smoking.
What are the symptoms of pulmonary embolism and what can they be done?
The most characteristic signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism are:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain, this condition can last in minutes to hours
- Bloody cough
- Fast heart rate
As for the so-called pulmonary edema. The disease is characterized by symptoms of difficulty breathing. Find out more about it, so you can distinguish which diseases you may have.
Other symptoms include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness or headache
- Low blood pressure
- Sounds when breathing
- Sweaty hands
- Bluish skin
What are the factors that can increase a person’s risk of pulmonary embolism?
Several factors can increase a person’s risk of developing pulmonary embolism, namely:
- Have suffered a pulmonary embolism, DVT, cancer, stroke, or heart attack
- Have undergone chemotherapy or surgery, such as bone, joint, and brain surgery
- Having a condition of not being able to get out of bed, for example, due to paralysis
- Suffers from blood clotting disorders, overweight (obesity), fractures, especially the femur or pelvis
- Have a family with a history of pulmonary embolism
- Undergoing hormone replacement therapy
- Being pregnant or just giving birth
- Taking birth control pills
- Have a smoking habit
- 60 years of age or older
How is pulmonary embolism diagnosed?
Diagnosis of pulmonary embolism can be ascertained in the following ways:
The doctor will ask about the symptoms experienced, the history of the disease, and the risk factors of a pulmonary embolism that the patient has.
The doctor will perform a physical examination to look for signs of pulmonary embolism, especially lung and heart examinations.
Blood tests are performed to determine blood protein levels called D-dimers. High D-dimer levels indicate a loose blood clot in the blood vessels.
Blood gas analysis
Blood gas analysis aims to measure oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood. The presence of clots in blood vessels may lower oxygen levels.
Chest X-rays are performed to determine the structure of the patient’s heart and lungs. This examination does not show typical signs of pulmonary embolism. But chest x-rays can help in getting rid of other possible causes.
CT pulmonary angiography
Ct angiography of the lungs will create a three-dimensional picture, which can detect the presence of pulmonary embolism. This examination is usually done with a contrasting substance to make the pulmonary arteries more clearly visible.
Ventilation-perfusion scan (V/Q scan)
V/Q scans can be performed if the patient is unable to use contrast substances in pulmonary CT angiography. For example, for allergies or other medical reasons. This examination aims to compare perfusion (blood flow) and ventilation (airflow that enters the lungs).
When the results of the V/Q scan show that some parts of the patient’s lungs have good airflow, but do not get enough blood flow, this condition may indicate pulmonary embolism.
During the examination, the patient will be asked to inhale a small amount of radioactive gas and get an injection of radioactive substances. Such radioactive substances are generally harmless to adults. But its use should be more careful in pregnant women.
Ultrasound of limb blood vessels
This ultrasound is performed to confirm the absence of a blood clot in the vein of the patient’s limbs.
MRI procedures are usually an examination of options for diagnosing pulmonary embolism in pregnant women and people who cannot use contrast substances due to impaired renal function.
How To Prevent Pulmonary Embolism?
How to treat pulmonary embolism will depend on the severity and duration of the patient experiencing it. Some medical treatment methods for this condition include:
Here is a selection of pulmonary embolism medications that may be given by a doctor:
Blood-thinning drugs or anticoagulants are prescribed to prevent the formation of an enlarged blood clot. Examples of this drug include heparin and warfarin. Heparin is the top choice because of its fast performance. After a few days of heparin administration, the doctor will give another anticoagulant drug called warfarin.
Thrombolytic drugs are blood clot destroyers. Because it can trigger complications in the form of severe bleeding, this drug is only used for pulmonary embolism conditions that threaten the life of the sufferer.
Medical measures commonly performed to treat pulmonary embolism include:
Removal of blood clots
This procedure is an option if there is a very large blood clot in the pulmonary artery. The doctor will use a thin and flexible hose that is punctured into the blood vessels.
Installation of a vein filter
A venous filter can be installed to keep blood clots from removing from the pulmonary arteries. In this procedure, a filter will be installed on large veins (inferior vein cava). This medical procedure is an option for patients who cannot use anticoagulant medications or have experienced blood clots repeatedly despite having taking anticoagulant medications.
Complications of pulmonary embolism
If not treated immediately, pulmonary embolism can cause complications such as:
- Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in pulmonary arteries
- Right heart failure due to pulmonary disorders
- Severe hypoxemia or oxygen deprivation
- Death of pulmonary tissue
- Pleural effusion
- Recurrent pulmonary embolism
- Thrombocytopenia caused by heparin
- Thrombophlebitis or inflammation of the blood vessels behind the veins
- Sudden death
How to prevent pulmonary Embolism?
The way to prevent pulmonary embolism is to avoid the occurrence of deep vein thrombosis.
Taking anticoagulant drugs
Anticoagulant drugs will be administered to patients at risk of blood clots, before and after surgery. Similarly, in people who have a heart attack, stroke, or complications due to cancer.
Using compression stockings
Compression stockings serve to press the legs to help veins and muscles to drain blood smoothly. These stockings are also used to prevent blood clots in the lower part of the body during and after surgery.
Supporting the feet
Supporting the feet with a pillow can be done to make the position higher while you are sleeping.
Practicing to move as soon as possible after surgery can also prevent pulmonary embolism while speeding up healing.
Using pneumatic compresses
Pneumatic compresses serve to suppress blood vessels in the legs as well as improve blood flow. For people who are at risk of pulmonary embolism and are traveling long distances, you can also do the following:
- Drink plenty of water
- Trying to keep moving if you’ve been sitting for an hour, such as changing your sitting position
- Stretching the legs every 15 minutes