When you have a deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), you need to treat it to avoid a life-threatening complication: a pulmonary embolism.
A pulmonary embolism (PE) usually happens when a blood clot in the leg breaks away, travels to the lungs, and blocks a lung artery. It can damage the lung and other organs and lead to low oxygen levels in the blood. It can even be fatal.
Pulmonary Embolism Symptoms
A pulmonary embolism doesn't always have symptoms. If there are symptoms, they include:
- Chest pain, which may get worse with a deep breath
- Sudden shortness of breath and rapid breathing
- Fast heartbeat
- Sudden cough
- Coughing up blood
- Lightheadedness or fainting
If you think you have a pulmonary embolism, call 911.
Diagnosing a Pulmonary Embolism
A heart attack, pneumonia, and other things have similar symptoms to a pulmonary embolism. To find out if you have a PE, doctors may give you different types of X-rays and lung tests.
If you have a life-threatening PE, doctors will give you a drug called a thrombolytic to dissolve the clot. These drugs can save your life, but they have a serious side effect: bleeding that is hard to stop. Doctors will carefully watch you for that.
Blood Thinners (Anticoagulants)
If you have a PE, your doctor will also give you a blood thinner.
Blood thinners doesn’t break up the clot. They prevent it from getting bigger and stop more clots from forming.
You will probably take a blood thinner pill for 3 months or longer. If you take Coumadin, you’ll need frequent blood tests to make sure you are getting the right dose. If you take a newer blood thinner, you won’t need frequent blood tests. Newer blood thinners include Eliquis, Pradaxa, and Xarelto.
After You've Had a Pulmonary Embolism
If you’ve had a pulmonary embolism, you and your doctor should figure out why it happened.
Your doctor should check on what may have led to the DVT, such as:
- A clotting disorder
- Major surgery
- An injury
- High estrogen levels (from pregnancy, birth control pills, or hormone replacement)
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Sitting or lying still for a long time