Pulmonary embolisms (PEs) are blood clots that typically form in a deep vein in the leg (also known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT) and travel to the lung, blocking blood flow. The average pulmonary embolism is the size of a small grape. These blood clots are common – and potentially deadly – but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.
What are the risk factors?
Several risk factors can increase your risk of developing PE, including:
• Long periods of inactivity
• Having a medical condition ranging from heart disease and certain cancers to a clotting disorder or severe COVID-19
• Recent trauma or injury
• Family history of blood clots
• Unhealthy weight
• Supplemental estrogen, such as birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy
“The biggest risk factor is immobility, either while traveling or bedridden with a medical issue,” explains CentraState interventional cardiologist Peter Hynes, MD. “Clots can develop if you sit for five hours or longer.”
The symptoms of PE Symptoms can vary depending on the size of the clots, how much of the lung is affected and if there are underlying lung or heart conditions. Symptoms can include:
• Abrupt onset of shortness of breath
• Chest pain
• Clammy or discolored skin
• Excessive sweating
• Fainting or dizziness
• Pain or swelling in the leg
• Rapid or irregular heartbeat
PEs can be life-threatening, so call 911 if you or a loved one experiences unexplained shortness of breath, chest pain or fainting.
When a patient in CentraState’s Emergency Department is suspected of having a PE, the emergency physician will order a CT scan and review the results with a radiologist. If confirmed, the on-call physician on CentraState’s Pulmonary Embolus Response Team (PERT) – a collaborating group of interventional cardiologists and interventional radiologists – is consulted to determine the best treatment approach.
Most PEs are treated with blood thinners. Complex cases, such as larger clots that impact the main arteries of the heart and lungs, are managed by the team. “A complex embolus can strain the heart and cause dangerously low blood pressure,” Dr. Hynes explains. “The team identifies high-risk patients and treats them in CentraState’s Cardiovascular Interventional Laboratory earlier to avoid serious complications.”
Treatments include a thrombectomy, which “vacuums” the clot out of the artery, or thrombolysis, which targets and destroys the blockage with tPA, a clot-busting blood thinner.
“Our team is committed to diagnosing PE quickly and offering the best practices in treatment,” says Dr. Hynes.
Preventing PE for Safer R&R
Your risk of developing blood clots increases during long trips. To prevent blood clots while traveling:
• Plan stops to walk during long car trips – or if flying, frequently walk around the airplane cabin.
• Make circle movements with your ankles and raise and lower your toes at least each half-hour.
• Wear compression stockings.
• Drink plenty of water.
INTERVENTIONAL CARDIOLOGY SERVICES AT CENTRASTATE
To learn more about the Interventional Cardiology Services at CentraState, check out the page here.