A guide to pulmonary embolisms

A pulmonary embolism is a vascular condition which results in a blood clot forming in the artery that transports blood to a person's lungs. Here is a brief explanation of the causes of this health issue, as well as information about how it is diagnosed and treated.

Causes of pulmonary embolisms

There are several things which can result in a person developing this condition. Long-term inactivity, for example, is believed to significantly increase an individual's chances of developing a pulmonary embolism. This is because low levels of physical activity can result in blood pooling in certain areas of the body (often the lower legs) and forming clots.

Damage to blood vessels is another known cause of this condition. This type of damage is often the result of major bone fractures and muscular injuries, but can also be caused accidentally during a surgery.

Smoking, being obese, having a family history of this condition and certain types of cancer are known to increase a person's risk of suffering from a pulmonary embolism. Many diseases which affect the blood vessels (such as heart failure and varicose veins) can also result in the development of this health issue.

Diagnostic procedure for pulmonary embolisms

Several forms of examinations and tests need to be performed in order to diagnose this condition. In addition to inquiring about the patient's medical history and performing a physical examination, the doctor may also take blood samples, have the patient undergo a chest x-ray, order a CT scan, and have an ECG carried out, to measure the level of electrical activity in the patient's heart.

Treatments for pulmonary embolisms

If a patient is found to have this condition, they will usually be offered anticoagulant medication. This type of medication affects the chemical composition of the blood and in doing so, reduces its capacity to form clots. This stops the existing clot from increasing in size and can help to prevent additional clots from forming.

The patient may also be referred for surgery. In this situation, their vascular surgeon may perform one of several different surgical procedures to remove the clot. One of the most common procedures of this kind is a suction thrombectomy; this involves the surgeon inserting a catheter into a blood vessel (via a small incision in the skin) and then pumping a saline solution through this tubing into the vessel that contains the clot. The saline can help to break apart the clot into smaller pieces, which can then be removed.

If you have more questions about pulmonary embolisms and other vascular diseases, reach out to surgeons like Timothy Wagner.