A pulmonary embolism is an abrupt blockage in an artery of the lungs. This blockage is usually the fault of an embolus which is a blood clot that originated somewhere in the body and then traveled via the bloodstream to the lungs. Ninety percent of pulmonary embolisms are the fault of deep vein thrombosis, which are blood clots that originate in the legs.
Dangers of pulmonary embolism
The Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome (APS) Foundation of America stresses the dangers of a pulmonary embolism; stating that it can not only damage the lungs, but it can also cause lower levels of oxygen in the blood, damage to other organs, and may even be fatal. Every year in the United States over 600,000 people experience a pulmonary embolism with it proving fatal in at least 60,000 of those people. Most of these patients passed away within an hour of noticing symptoms. In fact, this is the condition most likely to cause death in bedridden hospital patients.
A patient is more likely to suffer from a pulmonary embolism after some surgeries, when veins are damaged during a surgery, and also after spending long periods of time in bed; all of which are a concern for patients who have had a hip replacement. Therefore, it is very important to be able to recognize the signs of a pulmonary embolism as emergency treatment can save a life.
Common signs and symptoms
Symptoms will usually begin quite abruptly and may include wheezing, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, low oxygen saturation of the blood, and chest pain that feels worse with any chest movement including coughing and taking deep breaths. Some patients may also experience a feeling or dread or anxiety, an increase in heart rate, sweating, weakness, rapid breathing, a weak pulse, and a feeling of lightheadedness or even fainting. Infrequently, small pulmonary emboli may occur and the onset of symptoms will be more gradual and sometimes there are no symptoms exhibited.
Symptoms of pulmonary embolism may also sometimes mirror the signs of deep vein thrombosis. These signs can involve the following symptoms of one leg: swelling (particularly along a vein), tenderness or pain, discoloration, and/or warmth.
Typically, the symptoms will increase in severity along with the gravity of the blockage. According to MedicineNet, a patient experiencing a severe pulmonary embolism may show signs of shock (low blood pressure) and may experience cardiac arrest. That is more likely to occur when the clot is on the right side of the lungs and is constricting the flow of blood to the heart. This dangerous clot is referred to as a saddle embolus. Some factors affecting the severity of the symptoms include the size of the clot and how much of the lung is affected. Mayo Clinic staff state that the symptoms may also be affected by overall health of the patient and whether he or she suffers from underlying heart disease or lung disease.
Most patients with a pulmonary embolism will experience at least some of these warning signs and symptoms. It is vital to immediately seek emergency medical attention if this condition is suspected.