A pulmonary embolism is a blockage in one of your pulmonary arteries in your lungs caused by a blood clot that has traveled to your lungs from your legs (in rare cases the blood clot has traveled from another part of your body.
Because the clot blocks the flow of blood to your lungs, a pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening. Seeking immediate treatment greatly reduces your risk of death. You can also take measures to prevent blood clots from forming in your legs that will help to protect you against pulmonary embolism.
Are You at Risk?
There are factors that put you at a higher risk for a pulmonary embolism. These risk factors include:
Lack of Exercise
Movement helps blood move more efficiently through the veins. If you are sedentary, this impedes the blood flow and puts you at a higher risk for a blood clot to form. It is important that you get consistent exercise, anything from walking, riding a bike or swimming can help lower your risk of a blood clot.
Smoking causes many health issues and inflammation in blood vessels is just one of these problems. When blood vessels become inflamed, it’s easier for blood to clot in those vessels at an excessive level. Smoking can also cause abnormal blood clotting.
Many people that have surgery are sedentary. The problem with this is that blood clots can form so it is important to get up and move even after you’ve had surgery. Your nurse in the hospital will make sure you ease into moving after your procedure.
Family Medical History
If you have a family medical history of problem blood clots, you could be at a higher risk for a pulmonary embolism. If family members have had venous blood clots, you should talk to your doctor.
Many times it is simply all about inherited medical issues that affect the clotting of your blood, and not anything having to do with your lifestyle.
Cancer often increases the levels of substances in the body that helps the blood to clot. Treatment for cancer, such as chemotherapy or taking tamoxifen or raloxifene, increases your risk even more.
Those using birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy medication are at a higher risk for an embolism. Estrogen in these medications often increases the blood clotting in your body.
Symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism
The most common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath: appears suddenly and gets worse with exertion.
- Chest pain: you may feel like you are having a heart attack. The pain may become worse when you breathe deeply, cough, eat, or bend over. The pain will also get worse with exertion but won’t go away when you rest.
- Cough that may have bloody mucus
Other common symptoms:
- Leg pain or swelling, or both (usually in your calf)
- Clammy or discolored skin
- Blue lips or nails
- Lightheadedness or dizziness (you may also pass out)
- Sweating more than usual
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
There are steps you can take to help prevent pulmonary embolisms.
Blood thinners (anticoagulants)
There is medicine to treat pulmonary embolisms and are given to people who are at risk for pulmonary embolism. Blood thinners are used to treat pulmonary embolisms because helps to prevent new clots from forming while your body works to break up the clots.
Elevate Your Legs
If you are able to, elevate your legs during the night. This will help to increase the blood flow from your legs to the rest of your body and help blood clots from forming.
You can wear compression stockings which will steadily compress your legs and help the veins and leg muscles move blood more efficiently.
It is important that you keep moving and don’t sit or stand for extended periods of time. Sitting or standing for too long will affect the blood flow from your legs.
Pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening so you should seek immediate medical attention if you experience sudden and unexplained shortness of breath, pains in your chest or a cough that produces bloody mucus.