You may have heard of a pulmonary embolism shouted and diagnosed in television shows and movies, but what exactly is it?
A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in the lung that occurs when a clot in another part of the body (often the leg or arm) moves through the bloodstream and becomes lodged in the blood vessels of the lung,” as stated by the Cleveland Clinic. “This restricts blood flow to the lungs, lowers oxygen levels in the lungs, and increases blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries.”
It is important to note that symptoms of a pulmonary embolism depend on the size of the clot and where it lodges in the lung, according to Murrell.
If you do feel any of the below symptoms at the same time (especially shortness of breath), call 911 immediately.
- clammy or bluish skin
- chest pain that may extend into your arm, jaw, neck, and shoulder
- irregular heartbeat
- rapid breathing
- rapid heartbeat
- spitting up blood
- weak pulse
Long periods of inactivity
Pulmonary embolism occurs when the blood pools around a certain part of the body. This usually occurs in the arms or legs. The blood collects and may occur after surgery or bed rest.
According to Cleveland Clinic, injured veins may also cause a pulmonary embolism. Whenever an individual has a fracture or surgery that has been done on their pelvis, hip, knee, or leg.
Generally speaking, pulmonary embolism is most often caused by deep vein thrombosis (or DVT for short). DVT is a condition in which blood clots form in veins deep in the body. “The blood clots that most often cause pulmonary embolisms begin in the legs or pelvis,” says Daniel Murell, M.D.
If an individual has a medical condition “such as cardiovascular disease, including but not limited to congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and heart attack or stroke.
Increased risks of blood clots from cancer or medication
While some medical conditions may actually increase the chance of blood clots, there are a few cases in which blood clots can be elevated. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Elevated clotting factors can occur with some types of cancer or in some women taking hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills. Abnormal or low clotting factors may also occur as a result of hereditary conditions.”
No one can completely eliminate blood clots. They’re actually good for us and help keep our bodies safe. With that being said, what are some risk factors for pulmonary embolism?
Sometimes, it really is just genetics. According to Cedars Sinai, individuals with genetic conditions increase the risk of blood clot formation (to the point where it is unhealthy for us). If your family has a history of blood clotting disorders, you may want to get yourself checked.
Leg injuries that require surgery may be a risk factor for pulmonary embolism. After long periods of inactivity (think paralysis or bed rest), the blood has an easier time clotting while going through the bloodstream and the veins.
According to the CDC, pulmonary embolism was more likely to be seen among hospitalizations of people aged 60 years and older if it was associated with cancer, greater length of hospital stay, hospitalization in summer and autumn seasons, and in individuals with venous catheterization (a medical procedure in which a tiny tube (catheter) is placed into a vein to deliver medication or fluids).
Smoking is bad for the lungs and can make it difficult to breathe. If an individual smokes cigarettes, they are more likely to experience blood clots. This is due to the fact that smoking “damages the lining of the blood vessels, which can cause clots to form,” according to Heart.org.