Until this point, we have discussed the diagnosis, treatment and management of DVT. Time to shift gears. Pulmonary embolism (PE), also known as the silent killer, affects an unknown number of patients in the US. Estimates range from 600,000 to 900,000, although that number is likely to be higher (up to 25% of patients with PE result in sudden death). Treatments vary depending on the severity of the PE. Dr. Daniel Becker discusses PE and its treatments.
I've had a DVT and now it is in my lungs? How did that happen?
Sometimes blood clots that are in the veins of the legs (DVT or Deep Vein Thrombosis) break off and travel through the venous system to the blood vessels in the lungs. This is called a pulmonary embolus (PE).
Why is this bad?
While blood clots in the legs can cause problems such as pain and swelling, blood clots in the lungs can block the blood supply to the lung tissue and cause serious problems such as difficulty breathing and heart failure, even death.
Is VIP able to do anything for this?
Mild cases of pulmonary embolus are treated with blood thinners. However, if the pulmonary embolus is large and causing severe symptoms such as shortness of breath or strain on the heart then the clot may require interventional treatment. This is done non-surgically and painlessly by placing a small catheter (basically a rubber tube) from a vein in the leg to the lungs and injecting a drug to dissolve the clot. Your doctor will decide if you need this treatment.
Will I need long term treatment?
Most cases of pulmonary embolus are treated with blood thinners for 6-12 months. Some patients may need longer or even lifetime treatment.
Is there a way to prevent PE?
If you have a DVT then you should stay on blood thinners until your doctor tells you it is safe to stop, usually when the blood clots are completely dissolved. Sometimes it is necessary to insert what is called an IVC filter to prevent blood clots from traveling to the lungs. This will be discussed in an upcoming blog.