A pulmonary embolism refers to a condition in which a substance blocks either the main artery of the lung, or one of its branches. It is considered in many cases to be a medical emergency. Just how serious the condition may be is very evident based on the symptoms that are presenting.
The most common of all pulmonary embolism causes is a DVT, a deep vein thrombosis. This means that a blood clot that exists in the lower parts of the leg or the pelvis in the deeper veins breaks off and travels upwards to the lungs. In rare cases, pulmonary embolism causes may include air, fat and compounds from certain medications such as talc. However, blood clots in lungs as a result of a DVT remain the single most common cause, and unfortunately, the condition is marked by sudden onset.
The most common pulmonary embolism symptoms are changes in breathing and chest pain. Breathing may become very rapid, and shortness of breath is very common. Chest pain may be severe and may mimic a heart attack. It is possible that the chest pain may become worse during certain activities like bending over or even normal breathing. Coughing may also occur, and the coughing may be more severe in some cases.
Coughing up blood also may occur, and it is one of the hallmark symptoms of severe cases of a pulmonary embolism. Spitting up blood may occur as well, and this symptom is known as hemoptysis. However, spitting up blood is not a symptom unique to pulmonary embolisms and may occur as well in some cases of tuberculosis, pneumonia and other serious conditions of the respiratory tract. Coughing up blood clots or phlegm that is stained or tinged with blood however is almost always a sign of serious respiratory trouble.
While all pulmonary embolism symptoms should signal signs for alarm, some are particularly worth paying attention to because they can signal severe health risks and even life threatening situations. Changes in color to the fingers and lips may occur as a result of depressed circulation and thus, decreased oxygenation throughout the body. Additionally, fluid accumulation may also present, signaling internal congestion. Edema may occur in the lower extremities, and congestion of the liver may lead to jaundice. Fluid may also build up in the abdominal cavity as well.
The sudden onset of pulmonary embolism symptoms is the single biggest piece of information to pay attention to when an embolism is suspected. While many of the symptoms individually may exist with chronic conditions like emphysema or chronic bronchitis, the sudden severity and dramatic onset are more in line with a serious complication. It is these pulmonary embolism symptoms that are commonly used in order to diagnose an embolism in the lungs. While imaging technology like CT scans may be useful in obtaining a pulmonary embolism diagnosis and can be particularly helpful to identify specific issues like a saddle pulmonary embolism, in many cases, assessment of the symptoms alone can provide enough information for a doctor to know what the underlying cause is. A scale that is known as the Wells Score uses a symptom of points to rule out other causes of symptoms and weigh certain characteristics like increased heart rate and hemoptysis in order to make a diagnosis. The scale also takes into account certain risk factors not related to pulmonary embolism symptoms such as recent immobility or the presence or a recent history of cancer.
Once either the Wells score or medical imaging has confirmed that a pulmonary embolism exists, treatment begins promptly, typically employing the use of anticoagulant medications that are targeted towards breaking up the blood clot. In rare cases, surgery may be utilized; however the practice has become less and less common. While prompt identification of pulmonary embolism symptoms can lead to quicker and more successful treatment outcomes, preventive measures like smoking cessation and activity increase can be essential to preventing their development in the first place.