Several studies have reported that a large population of patients with pulmonary embolism (PE) succumbs to cardiac arrest before the dangerous clot is identified in a hospital or emergency department. The high mortality rate can be linked to the fact that PE typically has non-specific symptoms, such as shortness of breath, strange calf pain or indigestion, that could be confused with more benign conditions, until it advances to an emergency situation. Unless caught in time by a physician, the condition is hard to prevent.
Pulmonary embolism is a term that denotes a clot trapped in the lung, that leads to blockage of blood flow and can be dangerous and even fatal, if left untreated. Based on reported studies, almost a quarter of PE cases present as sudden deaths. If survived, the condition is marked by complications that impair the quality of life and shorten the life expectancy. Therefore, correct diagnosis and proper management and care is very significant as it can make all the difference.
Where and how does Pulmonary Embolism start?
It starts when clots form on the veins of the leg, a condition known as DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis). The reasons for clot formation can be hypercoagulability, blood flow pattern or an injury to the vessel. People confined to bed after a leg injury, or who are inactive for long, or with a disease such as cancer which can lead to thicker blood, are all candidates for developing clots.
The veins are used by the blood to reach the lungs. In its path, the blood passes through the right side of the heart. In cases of DVT, imagine the clot gets loose. It travels through the veins of the body, through the right side of the heart and to the lungs. The clot which is a large structure, reaching the lungs, can get stuck causing embolism. The amount of blockage depends on the size of the clot. If the clot is very large there are chances of it getting trapped in the main artery that leaves the right side of the heart, known as the pulmonary artery, that supply blood to the lungs. This places strain on the heart and the blood flow from the heart is reduced. In cases where it can inevitably result in sudden death, the condition is termed as massive pulmonary embolism. This is a medical emergency and require immediate treatment. Most PE cases presented in hospitals fall into the category of lower risk and are not massive. The mainstay of treatment for these, are blood-thinning medications.
Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism
Symptoms that are suggestive of Pulmonary embolism include shortness of breath, either at rest or while performing any activity. The condition is also associated with chest pain and dizziness. Patients may have already observed leg swelling or pain from the clot that started in the leg.