Pulmonary Embolism

Treatments for Pulmonary Embolism

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Treatment for Pulomary Embolism Aimed to Prevent Future Episodes

Depending upon the symptoms and severity of the pulmonary embolism, different approaches can be taken to treat it before it becomes life threatening.

Anticoagulants

Anticoagulants stop the production of proteins that are necessary for blood clots to form. When a person is cut or wounded, the body sends signals that use these proteins to form blood clots. A person who is experiencing pulmonary embolism has an imbalance of the amount of proteins that are made. This results in blood clots that form in the lungs and can cause a medical emergency to occur. Anticoagulants typically take two to three days to begin working and last for three to six months. They are available in either a pill or via an injection. The most common types prescribed are warfarin and heparin. Because most minor blood clots are dissolved by the body, anticoagulants are the first treatment prescribed by doctors in non-life threatening blood clots.

Thrombolytic Medicines

During life-threatening situations, there may not be time for the blood clot to dissolve slowly. In this case, thrombolytic medicines, such as tissue-type plasminogen activator (t-PA) or streptokinase may be given to the patient. These medicines work quickly to dissolve the clot by interfering with thrombin, which helps the clot to form. Because thrombolytic medicines may cause bleeding that could lead to stroke or death, they are only used in emergency situations where:

  • Blood flow is severely blocked
  • Blood pressure is low
  • The patient is in shock
  • The heart has a decreased ability to pump blood

Embolectomy

In rare occasions, anticoagulants and thrombolytic medicines may not work to properly dissolve the clot. When this occurs, the cells may begin to die off. An embolectomy can be performed by a surgeon to carefully remove the blood clot through surgery. The blood clot can be removed using the balloon, aspiration or surgical methods.

  • In a balloon embolectomy, a catheter with a balloon is passed into the artery and pushed beyond the clot. The balloon is then inflated and removed from the artery, taking the blood clot with it.
  • During an aspiration embolectomy, a catheter is inserted into the artery and suction is used to remove the clot.
  • A surgical embolectomy involves open artery surgery where a cut is made in the blood vessel and the clot is removed via the incision.

    Vena Cava Filter

    For those who cannot take anticoagulants to prevent future pulmonary embolism episodes, a vena cava filter can be used to prevent clots from entering the lungs. An umbrella-shaped filter is inserted into the large vein that is responsible for returning blood to the heart from the legs, pelvis and abdomen. The filter is designed to prevent blood clots that form in the deep veins of the legs from traveling to the lungs and heart where they can stop the flow of blood. The procedure is minimally invasive and is done through a catheter that is inserted via a large vein in either through the groin or neck.

    Experiencing a pulmonary embolism episode can be scary. Through proper medical treatment, patients are able to live a normal life while taking care of themselves and their condition.