Pulmonary Embolism

Pulmonary embolismPulmonary embolism ranks third most serious cardiovascular disease. Pulmonary (lung) embolism is a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in the lungs.

In most cases, pulmonary embolism is caused by a blood clot that traveled to the lung from the lower limbs, and rarely from other parts of the body. Given that the embolism almost always occurs in connection with deep venous thrombosis, most physicians refer to these two conditions together as thromboembolic disease.

Although any individual can develop deep vein thrombosis and lung embolism, factors such as lack of exercise, thrombophilia, cancer and recent operation increase these risks.

Lung embolism can be life threatening, but prompt treatment can significantly reduce the risk of death. Focusing on measures to prevent blood clots in the legs help protect you from embolism.

Symptoms of pulmonary embolism

Symptoms of lung embolism may vary greatly depending on how much of the lung is affected by embolism, how large is the embolus and what is the overall health of the person – and  in particular the presence or absence of underlying pulmonary or heart disease.

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath – This symptom usually appears suddenly and  gets worse with exertion.
  • Chest pain – You may feel that you are having a heart attack. Pain may be worse during deep breathing (pleurisy), when coughing, eating, bending or drooping. The pain will worsen with exertion, but disappear when you are resting.
  • Cough – A cough may accompany bloody phlegm.

Other symptoms that may occur in lung embolism, include:

  • Pain or swelling of a leg, or both, usually in the calf
  • Moist or discolored skin (cyanosis)
  • Fever
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  •  Light-headedness or dizziness

Embolism can be classified into:

  1. Successive pulmonary embolism, which are repeated minor embolisms in the lungs. It can lead to shock with signs of acute right heart failure.
  2. Massive pulmonary embolism – When massive pulmonary embolism strikes, 10% of patients will die within an hour   after being diagnosed- so called “sudden death”. Untreated pulmonary embolism results in the total mortality of 35%. Overall mortality in the treated pulmonary embolism reaches only 8%.

When to call an ambulance?

Lung embolism can be life-threatening. If you experience unexplained shortness of breath, chest pain or coughing that accompanies bloody mucus seek immediate medical assistance.

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