It may be
hard to diagnose pulmonary embolism, because the symptoms are like those of
many other problems, such as a
heart attack, a
panic attack, or
pneumonia. A doctor will start by doing a physical
exam and asking questions about your past health and your symptoms. This helps
the doctor decide if you are at high risk for pulmonary embolism.
Based on your risk, you might have tests to look for blood clots or rule
out other causes of your symptoms. Common tests include blood tests,
electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG), ultrasound, and
Doctors usually treat pulmonary
embolism with medicines called
anticoagulants. They are often called blood thinners,
but they don't really thin the blood. They help prevent new clots and keep
existing clots from growing.
Most people take
a blood thinner for a few months. People at high risk for blood clots may need it for
the rest of their lives.
If symptoms are severe and
life-threatening, "clot-busting" drugs called thrombolytics may be used. These
medicines can dissolve clots quickly, but they increase the risk of serious
bleeding. Another option is surgery or a minimally invasive procedure to remove the clot (embolectomy).
Some people can't take blood thinners, or they form clots in spite of
taking the medicine. To prevent future problems, they may have a filter put
into the large vein (vena cava) that carries blood from the lower body to the
vena cava filter helps keep blood clots from reaching
If you have had pulmonary embolism once, you are more
likely to have it again. Blood thinners can help reduce your risk, but they
increase your risk of bleeding. If your doctor prescribes blood thinners, be
sure you understand how to take your medicine safely.
You can reduce your risk of pulmonary
embolism by doing things that help prevent blood clots in your legs.
- Avoid sitting for long periods. Get up and
walk around every hour or so, or flex your feet often.
- Get moving
as soon as you can after surgery.
- When you travel, drink extra
fluids. But avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine.
compression stockings if you are at high risk.
- If you take blood
thinners, take them just the way your doctor tells you to.