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Pulmonary embolism (PE) is the blockage of a major lung artery by a blood clot. The condition occurs when a clot forms in another part of the body, breaks off and circulates in the bloodstream, and eventually becomes lodged in the lung artery.
The blockage prevents oxygen-rich blood from entering the bloodstream and can cause permanent damage to vital organs, and even death. A pulmonary embolism is a medical emergency — call 911 if you or someone around you is experiencing symptoms of PE.
Dignity Health North State provides emergency care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including treatment for a pulmonary embolism, in Northern California. Learn more about our emergency services and our personal care with humankindness.
Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism typically come on suddenly. They can include shortness of breath, coughing up blood or bloody mucus, and chest pain. Additional signs are excessive sweating, lightheadedness, rapid breathing, back pain, and bluish lips and nails.
A pulmonary embolism is most often a complication of a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is a blood clot that forms in one of your deep veins, usually in one of your legs.
Risk factors for DVT include:
Pay attention to symptoms of DVT in your legs, including leg pain, swelling, warmth, and redness and discoloration. Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms often occur together. As such, you should see your doctor right away if you experience symptoms of either condition.
Your doctor will choose treatment options based on the severity of your condition. If your pulmonary embolism is not considered life-threatening, treatment will focus on preventing the clot from getting bigger and stopping the formation of new clots. With the help of prescribed blood thinning medication and a bit of time, your body will often dissolve the blood clot.
If your condition is life-threatening, the goal of treatment is to quickly rid your body of the clot. Your doctor may prescribe clot-busting medicines — called thrombolytics — to dissolve the clot. Because these drugs can cause sudden bleeding, they are used only in emergency situations.
Some cases may require a catheter procedure to remove the clot. Surgery, however, is a last resort.
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Dignity Health North State provides emergency assistance for life-threatening conditions, such as pulmonary embolisms, in Mt. Shasta, Red Bluff, and Redding, CA.