Pulmonary Embolism: Causes, Symptoms And Risk Factors

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A few years ago, I heard a tragic story of this guy who passed on because of a blood clot. What happened is, he simply hit his foot against a chair. He felt a lot of pain for about a week, but then he dismissed it hoping that it would go away by itself. Within a few days, the clot had travelled to his lungs hindering his breathing, and unfortunately, he didn’t make it.

Pulmonary Embolism is a condition that occurs when a blood clot gets lodged in an artery in the lung, blocking blood flow to part of the lung. Blood clots most often originate in the legs and travel up through the right side of the heart and into the lungs. While the condition might be life-threatening, prompt treatment greatly reduces the risk of death.

Causes of blood clots

Typically, blood clots are healthy and lifesaving because they stop excessive bleeding. Clots form through a series of processes. First, platelets are released when a blood vessel is damaged. Once this happens, they change shape to form a plug that fills in the broken part to stop blood from leaking out. Once this has happened, clot formation begins.

Long strands of fibrin are released, which get tangled up with the platelets in the plug to create a net that traps even more platelets and cells. The clot becomes much tougher and more durable. Other proteins offset extra clotting factor proteins so the clot doesn’t spread farther than it needs to. Eventually, the body breaks down the blood clot so that it doesn’t spread further than it needs to.

Dangers of blood clots

An immobile blood clot will not harm you, but if it happens to move and interfere with body processes such as breathing, then this is where the problem comes in. Blood clots that form in the veins in your legs, arms, and groin can break loose and move to other parts of your body, including your lungs. A blood clot in your lungs is called a pulmonary embolism. A blood clot to your brain is called a stroke. Health: Strokes – Signs To Look Out For And What To Do When Somebody Is Having A Stroke

Risk factors for Pulmonary Embolism

While it can happen to anyone, certain people are more prone to pulmonary embolism than others.  These are the risk factors.

  1. Inactivity or immobility for long periods of time.
  2. Inherited conditions, such as blood clotting disorders or factor V Leiden.
  3. Heart surgery or bone injury (the risk is higher weeks following a surgery or injury).
  4. Cancer, a history of cancer, or during chemotherapy.
  5. Pregnancy- before, after and during delivery
  6. Using oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
  7. Recent injury or trauma to a vein
  8. Being overweight or obese

Symptoms of pulmonary embolism

The symptoms of pulmonary embolism are dependent on the individual and the severity of the blood clot.

Here are some of the symptoms.

  1. Sudden shortness of breath
  2. Chest pains
  3. Coughing
  4. An irregular heartbeat
  5. Swelling of the leg or along a vein in the leg
  6. Pain or tenderness in the leg
  7. Red or discoloured skin on the affected leg
  8. Bluish skin (cyanosis)
  9. Lightheadedness or fainting
  10. Increased heart rate
  11. Fever
  12. Excessive sweating.

Preventive measures

Although the occurrence of pulmonary embolism may sometimes be completely out of the blues, there are certain things that can be done to prevent it from happening.

  1. Use of blood thinners, which are prescribed by doctors to keep your blood from forming clots.
  2. Exercise, and especially after you’ve been immobile for a while. This will keep the blood in your legs flowing so it doesn’t have a chance to clot.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight.
  4. If you plan to take hormones like birth control talk to your doctor about your risk for blood clots. Check out this article Can Birth Control Cause a Pulmonary Embolism?-
  5. If you have other health issues, like diabetes or heart failure, watch what you eat, and talk to your doctor about any changes.
  6. You should get compression stockings to help prevent deep vein thrombosis – which doctors usually advise patients to have after surgery or a stroke when there is a high risk that clots will develop. Compression stockings improve circulation and aid in leg health.

Found this insightful? Find out What you should do to keep your heart healthy and Health: Strokes – Signs To Look Out For And What To Do When Somebody Is Having A Stroke

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