The blockage of an artery anywhere in the body is a serious medical problem. Prompt treatment is essential to avoid serious complications or death. An acute pulmonary embolism is one such condition that can be treated successfully if it is addressed quickly after symptoms present.
What Is an Acute Pulmonary Embolism and What Causes It?
An acute pulmonary embolism is a blockage of one of the pulmonary arteries of the lungs. It is most often caused by a blood clot that travels to the lungs from veins in other parts of the body. Deep vein thrombosis in the legs is one of the most common causes of pulmonary embolism when clots that form in the large veins of the legs break free and travel to the lungs. (Less commonly, a blockage can be caused by something other than a blood clot, like fat from the marrow of a broken long bone, an air bubble, or a piece of a tumor.)
It’s not unusual for pulmonary embolisms to involve more than one clot blocking multiple arteries. The lung tissue that is supplied by each artery may die from lack of blood flow if treatment is not sought quickly. This is called a pulmonary infarction; when portions of the lungs die in this fashion, it makes it more difficult for the lungs to get sufficient oxygen to the rest of your body. Pulmonary embolisms can also lead to pulmonary hypertension, in which the blood pressure in the lungs and the right side of the heart is elevated, a condition that can eventually weaken the heart muscle.
Certain medical conditions and lifestyle factors can put you at higher risk of an acute pulmonary embolism. These include:
- Past family history of venous blood clots or pulmonary embolism
- Cardiovascular disease that increases your risk of blood clots
- Certain types of cancer, such as those of the brain, lung, kidney, pancreas, ovary, stomach, and colon, as well as cancers that have metastasized
- Clotting disorders
- Severely symptomatic COVID-19 infection
- Prolonged periods of immobility, such as from bed rest or extended travel by plane or car
- Excess weight/obesity
- Estrogen therapy, birth control pills, or pregnancy
The most common sign of an acute pulmonary embolism is sharp or stabbing chest pain that increases when you try to breathe deeply. Other symptoms include sudden shortness of breath that gets worse with exertion, coughing (particularly when it produces blood or bloody mucus), dizziness, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, excessive sweating, fever, leg pain or swelling (from deep vein thrombosis), and bluish skin (from reduced oxygen). If you’re experiencing symptoms that you believe signal a pulmonary embolism, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Treatment with Dr. Saleh
A pulmonary embolism can be difficult to diagnose, especially in patients with comorbidities such as underlying heart or lung disease. Further, some treatments for eliminating clots, such as blood thinners and thrombolytics (clot-busting drugs), may not be appropriate for all patients. A complete medical history, physical exam, and a combination of scans such as X-rays and ultrasound will be needed to pinpoint the location of the embolism and determine the best course of treatment.
As a board-certified Vascular and Interventional Radiologist, Dr. Saleh has successfully identified and treated pulmonary embolisms overlooked by other providers, using minimally invasive catheterization procedures to eliminate the clots and restore blood flow without the use of thrombolytics and without an ICU stay for the patient. Those who have suffered a pulmonary embolism once are strongly advised to continue treatment to avoid the formation of more blood clots; Dr. Saleh’s expertise in diseases of the veins makes him ideal for ongoing care and to address underlying vein conditions that could trigger an embolism.
If you need a consult or a second opinion for a suspected pulmonary embolism, the Vein & Fibroid Treatment Center can help. To schedule an appointment at either our Corona or Colton office, contact us here or call us at 951-479-3644.