Pulmonary Embolisms and Deep Vein Thrombosis

What is pulmonary embolism (PE)?

A PE is a blockage of an artery in the lungs, usually by a blood clot. These blood clots often originate in the legs or arms and are called a deep vein thrombosis.

What are the signs and symptoms of a PE?

The sudden onset of shortness of breath, sharp chest pain, coughing up blood, rapid heartbeat or palpitations, rapid breathing, sweating, anxiety, and fainting are the signs and symptoms of a PE.

How is a PE diagnosed?

A medical history will be completed along with a physical examination. A CT scan of the chest is often utilized to evaluate for the presence of a PE. Further testing might include a ventilation-perfusion lung scan or pulmonary angiography.

What is a deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?

A DVT is the formation of a blood clot in the deep veins, usually in the legs or arms. These clots can break loose and travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolus (PE).

What are the symptoms of a DVT?

Generalized swelling in one leg or arm, redness in one leg or arm, skin that is warm to the touch in one leg or arm, and pain or tenderness in the calf or thigh are symptoms of a DVT.

How is a DVT diagnosed?

The most common test used is an ultrasound of the legs or arms. If needed, additional testing could include venous angiography.

How is a PE or DVT treated?

Anticoagulants (blood-thinning medications) are used to prevent the formation of further clots. Anticoagulants can be given through the veins (IV heparin), as an injection (i.e. enoxaparin) or by mouth (warfarin). In critical instances, a “clot busting” medication may be used.

How can I prevent a DVT?

DVT can be prevented by regular exercise of the lower legs during long car trips or flights, getting out of bed and walking as soon as possible after illness or surgery and taking medications to prevent the formation of clots as prescribed by your physician.