A pulmonary embolism or PE refers to a blockage of one of your pulmonary arteries in your lung. As a general rule, these blockages are caused by clots that form in the legs, break off and cause a blockage that impacts the blood flow to your lungs. PE is a critical health risk that can be life-threatening. Knowing your risk factors and the symptoms of PE can save your life. Early treatment for pulmonary embolism can protect you from damage to your heart and lungs.
Who is at Risk for PE?
Risk factors for PE include an inactive lifestyle or long period of inactivity, such as when traveling. Smokers are at higher risk of this condition, as are pregnant women and the obese. If you have a family history of PE, you are at higher risk of developing the condition. Finally, if you’ve recently undergone surgery or been on bed rest, you are at greater risk of developing a clot and thus PE.
What are the Signs of PE?
Swelling or redness in the leg can indicate a clot in the area that may break off and impact your heart. Those suffering from PE may develop chest pain, a bloody cough, or shortness of breath. Cyanosis or blueness due to low oxygen levels can also develop in PE sufferers. Some with the condition suffer from nausea, clammy skin, and sweating. Finally, suddenly feeling faint and being out of breath for no reason can be symptoms of PE.
How Can You Prevent and Lower Your Risk for PE?
Maintaining a healthy weight and getting exercise is critical to avoiding PE. If you’ve been traveling, try to get up and move around whenever possible to prevent blood from pooling at the knee joint and in the pelvis.
After surgery, follow medical guidance about getting up and going for a short walk to get your blood moving. Stop smoking. If you notice swelling or redness in your legs after a long trip or long stretch of time in a chair, seek medical help to check if a clot has formed. Your physician may check the area with an x-ray or ultrasound to determine if a dangerous clot has formed.
What are the Treatment Options for PE?
If you suspect a clot in your leg, you may be given blood thinners to clear it. During this time, you will likely be monitored to confirm that the clot has been broken up and that blood is flowing safely through your system.
A vena cava filter can also be inserted into the vein to capture clots but allow blood to flow. A quality treatment for pulmonary embolism plan will include future prevention.
It’s important to note that suffering from one PE puts you at risk for another one. Lifestyle changes and the addition of a blood-thinning medication can limit this risk. Careful monitoring of your health, including frequent movement breaks to get your blood flowing, will be necessary if you’ve experienced PE.
Also, reducing your weight, stopping smoking, lowering your alcohol and caffeine intake, and developing a regular exercise program can all help to lower your risk of another PE.