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Diagnosing and Treating Pulmonary Embolism with Emergency Response Teams

Krista Giannak

Last updated: November 9, 2016 9:11 pm

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Emergency response teams can save the lives of pulmonary embolism patients. Read on to learn more about pulmonary embolism symptoms, risk factors, causes and treatment.

What Is a Pulmonary Embolism?

According to the National Institutes of Health, an embolism occurs when a blood clot from one part of the body travels elsewhere in the body. 1 A pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when a blood clot travels, usually from a leg vein, to block an artery in the lung. These clots are usually formed as deep vein clots, part of a condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). 2 3

Diagnosing Pulmonary Embolism

A pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening emergency. In the emergency room, doctors use CT scans to diagnose the condition. 4 5 The team may also use X-rays. 6 Diagnosing a pulmonary embolism is very important because untreated, the condition can lead to low blood oxygen levels, damaged organs and increased pulmonary arterial pressure. Large or multiple blood clots can cause death, and untreated, 30 percent of people with pulmonary embolisms die, many within hours. 7 8

Pulmonary Embolism Risk Factors

There are several pulmonary embolism risk factors. Cancer, certain medications and genetic factors can raise a person’s risk of developing blood clots that cause a pulmonary embolism. Other factors include recent surgery, damaged blood vessels or blood flow changes. A person’s blood flow may change if they use an orthopedic cast or sit inactively during long trips in a car or on a plane. 9 10

A New Way of Treating Pulmonary Embolism

A rapid team approach to diagnosing pulmonary embolism saves lives. With the newest treatment approaches, radiologists, cardiologists, pulmonary and pulmonary embolism specialists collaborate onsite within hours so that the patient does not have to wait weeks to see a specialist for life-saving follow-up treatments. 11 12

Pulmonary embolism symptoms are similar to those of other diseases, including:

  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Leg swelling (usually in only one leg)
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fluctuating heart rhythm

Therefore, immediate and correct diagnosis by trained and experienced cardiac and pulmonary specialists is key to saving a patient’s life. 13 14

Retrievable IVC Filters as Pulmonary Embolism Treatment

Doctors commonly use anticoagulation to thin the blood of patients with a pulmonary embolism. 15 Retrievable inferior vena cava (IVC) filters may also be used if the patient cannot tolerate anticoagulants or if they prove ineffective in preventing the formation of clots. 16 In fact, the use of IVC filters in older patients has increased, along with hospitalizations for PE, according to Health Day. It also indicated that IVC filter use varied by ethnicity and region. 17

Doctors may insert these filters into the inferior vena cava in an attempt to create a “net” to prevent blood clots from reaching the lungs. A 2014 safety communication from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns of retrievable IVC filter complications, including embolism of the filter or some of its fractured fragments, movement of the filter or filter parts to other parts of the body, inability to remove the device and filter perforation of the inferior vena cava. 18

The filter or its fragments may even reach the heart or lungs. Some of these complications may be avoidable by removing the retrievable IVC filter as soon as medically possible. Therefore, the FDA recommends that a retrievable IVC filter be removed as soon as the risk for a pulmonary embolism passes. 19

  1. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/pe. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  2. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/pe. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  3. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2016/03/15/New-response-teams-expedite-pulmonary-embolism-treatment-Allegheny-General-Hospital-UPMC/stories/201603080004. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  4. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2016/03/15/New-response-teams-expedite-pulmonary-embolism-treatment-Allegheny-General-Hospital-UPMC/stories/201603080004. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  5. WESA. http://wesa.fm/post/diagnosing-and-treating-pulmonary-embolism. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  6. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2016/03/15/New-response-teams-expedite-pulmonary-embolism-treatment-Allegheny-General-Hospital-UPMC/stories/201603080004. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  7. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/pe. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  8. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2016/03/15/New-response-teams-expedite-pulmonary-embolism-treatment-Allegheny-General-Hospital-UPMC/stories/201603080004. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  9. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2016/03/15/New-response-teams-expedite-pulmonary-embolism-treatment-Allegheny-General-Hospital-UPMC/stories/201603080004. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  10. NIH, Who Is at Risk for Pulmonary Embolism? https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/pe/atrisk. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  11. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2016/03/15/New-response-teams-expedite-pulmonary-embolism-treatment-Allegheny-General-Hospital-UPMC/stories/201603080004. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  12. WESA. http://wesa.fm/post/diagnosing-and-treating-pulmonary-embolism. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  13. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2016/03/15/New-response-teams-expedite-pulmonary-embolism-treatment-Allegheny-General-Hospital-UPMC/stories/201603080004. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  14. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/pe/signs. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  15. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2016/03/15/New-response-teams-expedite-pulmonary-embolism-treatment-Allegheny-General-Hospital-UPMC/stories/201603080004. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  16. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/Safety/AlertsandNotices/ucm396377.htm. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  17. Health Day. http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-03-ivcf-older-patients-pulmonary-embolism.html. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  18. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/Safety/AlertsandNotices/ucm396377.htm. (Accessed March 28, 2016). 

  19. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/Safety/AlertsandNotices/ucm396377.htm. (Accessed March 28, 2016).