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We all know that a blood clot lodged in a vessel leading to the heart can often cause a heart attack. (Read about "Heart Attack") One lodged in a vessel leading to the brain can cause a stroke. (Read about "The Brain" "Stroke") These are two potentially deadly situations. Another place that can be just as deadly but not as well known for a blood clot to lodge is the lung, resulting in what is called a pulmonary embolism (PE).
It usually starts as a blood clot somewhere else in the body. When it breaks free, it is called an embolus. As it travels through the vascular system (Read about "Vascular System"), it can block a blood vessel and cause problems. If it happens in the lung, it is a pulmonary embolism. The American Heart Association estimates 600,000 people get PE each year and 60,000 die. In fact, PE is the leading cause of death in childbirth. (Read about "Childbirth")
PE is a life threatening situation. If you have any of the warning signs, it is imperative that you get medical attention right away. The American Medical Association lists the warnings signs as:
Once again, these signs could indicate a life threatening situation and you should seek medical care right away.
The main risk factor of course is having a clot somewhere. Clots are usually the result of some other disease condition, such as thrombophilia. (Read about "Thrombophilia") Many PE's are the result of a clot breaking loose from an area of recent surgery. The National Institutes of Health say patients undergoing various types of surgery - including general, orthopedic (Read about "Orthopedics") and gynecological-obstetrical - are at higher risk for developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (Read about "Deep Vein Thrombosis") and PE. Of these groups, orthopedic patients appear to be especially prone to thrombosis, particularly patients with hip fracture. (Read about "Hip Fractures") Patients with various types of medical diseases, including cancer (Read about "Cancer: What It Is") and certain chronic diseases, are also at high risk.
Pregnant women also have an increased chance of developing DVT, which is a clot in the veins, usually of the leg. If those clots move to the lungs, it results in a PE. Inactivity such as prolonged bed rest or travel (such as a trans-oceanic flight) that leaves you not moving for an extended period of time can cause clots to form as well. An injury to your leg or your pelvis also increases your risk.
People who survive a pulmonary embolism are at higher risk of developing another one. This may increase their risk of developing another dangerous condition called pulmonary hypertension. (Read about "Pulmonary Hypertension")
Staying healthy is important. Following all the rules for a healthy heart is a good first start. (Read about "Exercise and Your Heart") Regular exercise will help to keep your blood flowing smoothly. If you must take a long trip, make sure you get up and move around whenever possible. Pregnant women should discuss the situation with their doctors and be aggressive in seeking treatment for any potential problems. (Read about "Healthy Pregnancy") The National Cancer Institute has also identified tamoxifen and hormonal replace therapy as possible risk factors for PE.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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