What is a Pulmonary Embolism?
Being at risk for a pulmonary embolism may be more common than you think. A pulmonary embolism is essentially a blockage in your lungs that prevents your heart from pumping the appropriate amount of blood to them. In most conditions, this blockage is a blood clot that is formed in another part of the body and travels to the lungs. Often times, the blockages that cause pulmonary embolisms are formed in the veins of the legs, known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
What is your Risk?
It is import to know your risk for a pulmonary embolism because it is a serious medical condition that can be life threatening. You are at a higher risk if you:
- Have heart disease, particularly heart failure
- Had surgery recently
- Have lung, ovarian or pancreatic cancer, or have had chemotherapy for cancer
- Have family history of pulmonary embolism
- Have DVT, or family history of DVT
- Do not exercise and stay in one place for long periods of time
- Are a smoker
- Are pregnant
- Take estrogen pills
- Are obese
How do I know I have a Pulmonary Embolism?
The symptoms can be different for each person. One of the most common signs is coughing a lot, and especially coughing up blood. The symptoms depend on where in your lungs the blockage could be and the size.
Another warning sign for a pulmonary embolism is sharp chest pain. This pain may get worse if you:
- Take a deep breath
- Bend over
- Exercise (and does not get better afterward while resting)
Can it be prevented?
There are ways to reduce your risk for a pulmonary embolism. In order to stop a blood clot from forming after surgery, be sure to take your prescribed blood thinner. To encourage blood flow in the legs and prevent DVT, you may need to elevate them or wear compression stockings.
Avoid sitting for long periods of time. If you are at work, on a long trip or flight, get up, walk around and stretch as much as possible. If you think you are at risk for a pulmonary embolism, as your doctor about ways to reduce your risk that is personalized for you.