What is Pulmonary Embolism?
Pulmonary embolism refers to the sudden formation of a clot in the lung artery. The clot may be caused by blood, fat, air and growth of unwanted cells. But the major cause of this condition is blood clots. Although the clot ends up in the lungs, its formation begins in the lower part of the body such as arms, pelvis, legs or heart. After the formation of a clot in the leg, it is dislodged and moves from the point of formation into the lung vessels. This clot which moves from one body part to another is called embolus. It will continue moving into the narrower lung vessels till it reaches the narrowest vessel that does not allow further movement. This will make the clot to wedge in the blood vessel thereby blocking blood from reaching one side of the lung. Consequently, this side will not receive oxygen that is carried in your blood circulation.
What Causes Pulmonary Embolism?
In most cases, the formation of pulmonary embolus is triggered by DVT (deep vein thrombosis). People with DVTs are at a greater risk of developing pulmonary embolism. Precipitating factors that may trigger this clot formation include trauma or injury (particularly in the legs), heart attack, recent surgery (particularly lung cancer surgery), cancer or heart disease, broken bones, spinal cord injury, enzyme and protein deficiencies, hip fracture, pregnancy and childbirth, burns, obesity, high blood pressure, smoking and prolonged bed rest, inactivity or travel.
Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism
The first symptom of this condition in its initial stages (deep thrombosis stage) is pain in one’s calf muscle. On the same note, the legs may be tender and warm to touch, thereby causing walking difficulties. But this can disappear within a few days. When the clot eventually reaches the lungs, you can observe signs such as apprehension and anxiety, low blood pressure, chest pain (sharp pain which worsens with coughing or even breathing), dry cough, rapid heart rate, sweating, clammy skin, nasal flaring, pelvic pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, mild fever, swelling legs, vein related lumps near the body surface and splinting of ribs when breathing.
In more severe cases, in which the clot is relatively larger, the symptoms may include bluish discoloration on one’s lips and fingers, cold sweats, losing consciousness or even death.
Diagnosis of Pulmonary Embolism
The diagnosis of pulmonary embolism is not easy since the symptoms aren’t specific. Blood tests can help reveal if one is more prone to DVT, but they cannot detect clot. In addition, although X-ray cannot detect this clot, they can rule out conditions that mimic the disease. A pulmonary angiogram with the insertion of a flexible tube (catheter) with radio-opaque dye will be able to provide a definitive diagnosis. However, as the angiogram poses potentially high risks and requires highly skilled staff to administer, some patients may be diagnosed with vascular ultrasound, Sonography, which checks blood flow in the leg veins.
Pulmonary Embolism Treatment Options
Some patients can be cured by taking medications such as anticoagulants or clot dissolvers. However, the use of medications also carry certain risks such as severe bleeding for clot-bursting drugs. Some patients may be recommended procedures such as placing a vein filter in the main vein that leads to your heart to catch and stop blood clots from moving towards your lungs. If the blood clots put you in shock and medication is not working quickly enough, your doctor might conduct emergency surgery. The goal of the surgery is to remove as many blood clots as possible, especially if there are large clots in your arteries.
Why I should seek treatment for pulmonary embolism?
When the lungs do not receive oxygen that is in your blood circulation, it can cause the lung tissues to die. The body tends to disintegrate small clots faster and minimize the damage. But large clots can lead to the death of some lung areas, which may eventually turn fatal. Therefore, this condition should be diagnosed and treated promptly before it turns into a life-threatening condition.
Why choose our vascular surgeon, Dr Cheng for pulmonary embolism treatment?
Pulmonary Embolism is a potentially life threatening disease that should be treated by professional doctors familiar with this condition. Our doctor has seen many such conditions in his career in the public and private healthcare. As the Regional Proctor (SEA) of Medtronic Endovascular, our doctor has completed many treatments for pulmonary embolism and often invited overseas to supervise or proctor these complex surgeries.
Find out more about Pulmonary Embolism and Treatment options
Our doctor regularly conducts free public educational forums at his clinic in Singapore. Contact us now if you will like to be informed about the next forum or make an appointment with our doctor for a consultation.