The term Embolism is derived from the Greek word embolos which means ‘stopper’ or ‘plug’. Embolism is a condition in which an object called embolus created in some part of the body, travels through out the body and blocks blood flowing through a vessel in another part of the body. An embolus is a clot that forms in one part of the body and travels through blood stream to another part of the body.
There are different types of Embolism:
- Pulmonary Embolism
- Brain Embolism
- Retinal Embolism
- Amniotic Fluid Embolism
- Air Embolism
- Thrombo embolism
- Cholesterol Embolism
- Fat Embolism
- Septic Embolism
- Foreign body Embolism
Pulmonary Embolism (PE) is a sudden blockage in a lung artery. It usually occurs when a blood clot from a vein in the leg travels to the lung.
PE is a serious condition which can cause:
- Permanent damage to part of the lung due to lack of blood flow to the lung tissue
- Low oxygen levels in the blood
- Damage other organs in the body when not getting enough oxygen.
- If the blood clot is large or if there are many clots, PE can cause even death.
Usually in 9 out of 10 cases PE begins as a blood clot in the deep veins of the leg – condition known as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). The clot breaks free from the vein and travels through the blood stream to the lungs where it can cause block to an artery. PE occurs equally both in men and women. Risk increases with age and doubles from every 10 years after the age 60. Usual signs and symptoms of PE include:
- Unexplained shortness of breath
- Problem breathing
- Chest pain
- Coughing or coughing up of blood
The diagnosis of PE is done based on the patient’s medical history. The tests will depend on how the patient feels when he gets in to the hospital. There are many types of tests which would determine whether the patient is having PE or not.
Ultrasound Test is used to look for blood clots in the legs. High frequency sound waves is used to check the flow of blood in the veins.
Computed Tomography (CT) Scan is used to detect blood clots in the lungs and legs.
Lung Ventilation/Perfusion Scan (VQ Scan) uses a radioactive substance which would show how well oxygen and blood are flowing to all areas of the lungs. This test can also detect PE.
Pulmonary Angiography is another test used to diagnose PE. This is not available at all hospitals.
Blood Tests – Certain blood tests also helps the doctor to find out whether the patient is likely to have PE: D-dimer test measures a substance in the blood that is released when a clot breaks up. High levels of the substance may mean there is a clot. The other test is lung measuring. The amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood is measured. A clot in a blood vessel in the lung may lower the level of oxygen in the blood.
Other Tests are also taken to determine whether a patient is having PE or not.
Treatment depends on the condition of the patient and may include Anti-coagulant (blood thinner) medication, thrombolytic therapy, compression stockings (support hose) and sometimes surgery or interventional procedures to improve blood flow and reduce the risk of future blood clots. Heparin is an anticoagulant naturally produced in the lungs and liver. It may be administered as a medication to address blood clotting disorders such as thrombosis. But the drug can be extremely dangerours if it is used improperly and without supervision.
The following are preventive measures to prevent PE:
- Exercise regularly and wear compression stockings
- Drink plenty of fluids
- If one needs to be stationary for long period, move around for few minutes each hour, move feet and legs, bend knees and stand on tip-toe
- Do not smoke
- Avoid crossing legs
- Do not wear tight fitting clothing
- Lose weight if over weight
- Elevate feet for 30 minutes twice a day