Know Thrombosis: Think Pulmonary Embolism (PE)
Pulmonary embolism, or PE, is a sudden blockage in a lung artery. The blockage usually is caused by a blood clot that travels to the lung from a vein in the leg, also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
A clot that forms in one part of the body and travels in the bloodstream to another part of the body is called an embolus.
PE is a serious condition that can:
- Damage part of your lung because of a lack of blood flow to your lung tissue. This damage may lead to pulmonary hypertension (increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries)
- Cause low oxygen levels in your blood.
- Damage other organs in your body because of a lack of oxygen.
If a blood clot is large, or if there are many clots, PE can cause death.
A recent World Thrombosis Day Ipsos survey showed little awareness of PE. The time is NOW to educate your family, friends and colleagues.
Signs and Symptoms
Be proactive. If you have a concern, contact your health care professional immediately.
Although anyone can develop blood clots and subsequent pulmonary embolism, certain factors can increase your risk. They include:
- Medical history. You're at higher risk if you or any of your family members have had venous blood clots of PEs in the past. This may be due to inherited disorders that affect blood, making it more prone to clot.
- Heart disease. Cardiovascular disease, specifically heart failure, makes clot formation more likely.
- Cancer. Certain cancers — especially pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancers, and many cancers with metastasis — can increase levels of substances that help blood clot, and chemotherapy further increases the risk. Women with a personal or family history of breast cancer who are taking tamoxifen or raloxifene also are at higher risk of blood clots.
- Surgery. Surgery is one of the leading causes of problem blood clots. For this reason, medication to prevent clots may be given before and after major surgery such as joint replacement.
- Bed rest. Being confined to bed for an extended period after surgery, a heart attack, leg fracture, trauma or any serious illness makes you more vulnerable to blood clots. When the lower extremities are horizontal for long periods, the flow of venous blood slows and blood can pool in the legs.
- Long trips. Sitting in a cramped position during lengthy plane or car trips slows blood flow in the legs, which contributes to the formation of clots.
Other risk factors
- Smoking. For reasons that aren't well-understood, tobacco use predisposes some people to blood clot formation, especially when combined with other risk factors.
- Being overweight. Excess weight increases the risk of blood clots — particularly in women who smoke or have high blood pressure.
- Supplemental estrogen. The estrogen in birth control pills and in hormone replacement therapy can increase clotting factors in your blood, especially if you smoke or are overweight.
- Pregnancy. The weight of the baby pressing on veins in the pelvis can slow blood return from the legs. Clots are more likely to form when blood slows or pools.
Pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening. About one-third of people with undiagnosed and untreated pulmonary embolism don't survive. When the condition is diagnosed and treated promptly, however, that number drops dramatically. Feel a sign or symptom, contact your health care professional immediately.