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St. Maarten Medical Center
The pulmonary arteries and their branches carry blood from the heart to the lungs to be oxygenated.
A pulmonary embolism is the blockage or closure of a pulmonary artery or one of its branches by an abnormal
object, most frequently a blood clot. The clot typically travels with the flow of blood from a leg vein
to the site where it creates a blockage.
When a pulmonary artery becomes severely blocked, blood oxygen levels fall, and blood pressure in the lungs
and pulmonary arteries can rise so high that the heart may not be able to pump enough blood out of its
A pulmonary embolism occurs when an embolus, or abnormal object, moves through the circulatory system and
blocks an artery in the lung. Because about 10 percent of pulmonary embolisms are fatal within the first
hour after onset of symptoms, prompt diagnosis and treatment are critical.
If a blockage occurs in a large blood vessel or if the person suffers from another pulmonary condition,
such as pulmonary hypertension, the blockage could cause pulmonary
infarction, which means lung tissue death.
The severity of the symptoms varies with the size or number of blockages. Small embolisms may cause no
symptoms. Common symptoms include:
About 50 percent of all embolisms are blood clots that result from a condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Rarely, a pulmonary embolism can be caused by an air bubble, fat, amniotic fluid (in mothers shortly after childbirth), or bone marrow following a fracture.
The following factors increase a person's risk for a pulmonary embolism.
A doctor will take your patient history and will order one or more of the following tests:
The mainstay of treatment for pulmonary embolism is the anticlotting drug heparin, which is usually given intravenously.
Nowadays, fractionated heparin is administered subcutaneously (injection in the layer of skin directly below the dermis and epidermis). Alternatively, new oral anticoagulant drugs are being used.
Patients may also receive analgesics (painkillers), oxygen, or drugs that stabilize blood pressure level and heart rhythm.
Once a pulmonary embolism has been effectively treated, patients are usually given a blood-thinning drug. Most patients require blood-thinning medication for at least 6 months. Because these drugs can make a patient prone to excessive bleeding, patients are regularly given blood tests to check how long it takes the blood to clot.
Patients with a known risk of pulmonary embolism can adopt several lifestyle measures to reduce the chances of developing a blood clot, including: