Pulmonary embolism is a severe and life-threatening condition, caused when the pulmonary artery is blocked by foreign matter such as a blood clot (thrombus), fat, air or tumor tissue.
Conditions that may contribute to pulmonary embolism include extended bed rest, surgery, cancer, paralysis and aging.
Although there are common symptoms, each individual may experience symptoms differently.
Signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism may be similar to those of a heart attack or a lung disorder such as pneumonia. Common symptoms include sudden chest pain, excessive perspiring, shock, cyanosis (bluish skin color), anxiety and loss of consciousness.
Pulmonary embolism is difficult to diagnose. Non-invasive tests cannot be used in the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism. The physician must often eliminate the possibility of other lung diseases before determining that the condition is pulmonary embolism. A test called V/Q scan – a nuclear ventilation-perfusion study of the lungs – may be used, as well as a pulmonary angiography. New diagnostic methods are under investigation.
The immediate treatment for pulmonary embolism is anticoagulant therapy to dissolve the clot and return blood flow. Oxygen and sedatives may also be used to make the patient comfortable. Surgery to remove the embolism may also be performed.
A doctor must be seen immediately if symptoms occur.
The most important symptom of pulmonary embolism is breathlessness, which often occurs suddenly and for which there is no other explanation.
A cough that begins suddenly, sometimes mixed with blood-streaked sputum, is a frequently-seen symptom of pulmonary embolism, but other symptoms are more likely to point to the correct diagnosis.
Sickle cell disease increases the risk of pulmonary embolism.
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