Can You Have a Pulmonary Embolism and Not Know It?

Written By Center for Vein Restoration
Blog Image Can You Have Pulmonary Embolism

Pulmonary embolism is a serious medical condition that occurs when a blood clot gets lodged in an artery in the lung. While symptoms of pulmonary embolism (PE) can vary, it is possible that some people with PE may not experience any symptoms at all, especially if the clot is small. However, a large PE or multiple clots can lead to life-threatening problems. Learn more about this potentially fatal blood clot, including symptoms to look for and what you should do if you suspect a pulmonary embolism.

A pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when a blood clot, usually from the deep veins of the legs (deep vein thrombosis or DVT), travels to the lungs and stops blood flow in the pulmonary arteries. Pulmonary arteries serve the crucial function of delivering oxygen-depleted blood from the right heart chamber to the lungs, paving the way for oxygenation. Think of the pulmonary arteries as little delivery trucks carrying used-up blood low on oxygen from the right side of your heart to the lungs for a refill.

How bad is a pulmonary embolism?

According to the National Library of Medicine (NIH), approximately 100,000 to 200,000 people die in the United States every year as a result of pulmonary embolism. The severity of a pulmonary embolism can vary depending on factors such as the size of the clot, the individual's overall health, and whether they have underlying lung or heart disease. Fortunately, PE is often not fatal with fast, appropriate medical attention.

Unfortunately, per the Cleveland Clinic, 33 percent of people with a pulmonary embolism die before they receive diagnosis and treatment. This may be because about half of the people who have a pulmonary embolism do not experience any symptoms, as per Penn Medicine. This makes PE challenging to diagnose, underscoring the importance of being aware of your unique risk factors beforehand so you will seek prompt medical attention if you suspect that you may have PE. (Read on to learn the risk factors that can increase your chances of developing a PE blood clot).

What are the signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism?

It's important to emphasize that individuals with pulmonary embolism may not show symptoms, particularly when the blood clot is small. However, if the PE is large or involves multiple clots, it can result in severe, life-threatening complications, including the risk of death.

Call emergency services (911 in the US) or go to the nearest emergency room if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden shortness of breath, even at rest that gets worse with activity
  • Chest pain that may become worse when you breathe deeply and feels like a heart attack
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • Fainting
  • Coughing (especially a cough that produces bloody mucus)
  • Excessive sweating
  • Seizures
  • Clammy or discolored skin, known as cyanosis
  • Fever
  • Leg pain and swelling, usually in the back of the lower leg, in one or both legs
  • Delirium (in elderly patients)

What Are the Risk Factors for Developing a Pulmonary Embolism?

The risk factors for developing a pulmonary embolism (PE) include:

History of Blood Clots: Individuals with a prior venous thromboembolism (VTE) or a family history of venous blood clots or pulmonary embolism are at a higher risk.

Advanced Age: Being older is a significant risk factor for PE, as older individuals are more prone to developing PE without symptoms.

Medical Conditions and Treatments: Several medical conditions and treatments can increase the risk of PE, such as heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and stroke, and certain medications like birth control pills and estrogen replacement therapy.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): People who have severe symptoms of COVID-19 have an increased risk of pulmonary embolism.

Genetic and Inherited Conditions: Genetic conditions that increase the risk of blood clot formation and inherited coagulation disorders can also predispose individuals to PE.

Surgery, Injury, or Immobility: Recent surgery, trauma, extended bed rest, or situations that limit mobility can increase the risk of blood clots and subsequent PE.

Long trips: Travel alert! Cramped seating + long trips = sluggish blood flow in legs, raising your risk of clots. Extended periods of sitting in confined spaces, like planes or cars, can cause blood to pool in your legs, making blood clots more likely.

Smoking, Pregnancy, and Obesity: These are risk factors for PE that occur without symptoms.

    It's essential to be aware of these risk factors, especially when you have more than one threat, as they can significantly increase the likelihood of developing a pulmonary embolism.

    How Can I Prevent Pulmonary Embolism?

    To prevent pulmonary embolism, especially if you have one or more risk factors, take the following measures:

    Get Vein Treatment:

    Treatment for problem veins can improve blood flow, thus reducing the risk of blood clots. Vein treatment can also eliminate the pain and discomfort of varicose veins and prevent complications, such as ulcers, vein bleeding, or DVT blood clots.

    Choosing a qualified and experienced vein care specialist is vital as it can lead to improved outcomes and a higher likelihood of successful treatment. A qualified vein expert can accurately diagnose your condition, provide the best treatment options, and offer personalized care to avoid additional problems in the future.

    At Center for Vein Restoration (CVR), our vein specialists are board-certified physicians with extensive training in modern treatment options for vein-related issues. CVR follows the clinical practice guidelines set forth by the Society for Vascular Surgery, dedicated to advancing excellence and innovation in vascular health through education, advocacy, research, and public awareness, and the American Venous Forum, the major national academic society focused on venous and lymphatic disease in the United States.

    Therefore, CVR patients receive the highest-level vein care available today.

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    Manage Underlying Conditions:

    If you have medical conditions such as high blood pressure, COPD, stroke, cancer, chronic venous insufficiency, or inflammatory bowel disease, it's essential to manage these conditions effectively to reduce the risk of blood clots and subsequent PE.

    Stay Active:

    Regular physical activity promotes healthy blood circulation and reduces the risk of blood clots. If you must sit for long periods, especially during long car or airplane rides, try to move and stretch your legs regularly.

    Maintain a Healthy Weight:

    Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of PE, so maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise is important.

    Quit Smoking:

    Smoking restricts blood flow and contributes to the hardening of the arteries, increasing the risk of blood clots and PE. Quitting smoking can significantly reduce this risk.

    Follow Medical Advice:

    If you have a history of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or other risk factors for PE, it's essential to follow your healthcare provider's advice regarding preventive measures, such as the use of anticoagulant therapy is recommended.

        Managing your risk factors and following these simple steps puts you in control of your health by reducing the odds of experiencing this potentially life-threatening condition.

        Vein Treatment Can Help Prevent Pulmonary Embolism

        Treatment for varicose veins helps improve overall blood circulation and reduces the risk of venous insufficiency—a common risk factor for developing blood clots and PE. Therefore, quality vein treatment can significantly prevent PE, especially in individuals with varicose veins and other risk factors.

        The vein experts at Center for Vein Restoration (CVR) provide personalized, vascular care using state-of-the-art techniques in a comfortable outpatient setting. Treatment takes an hour or less to complete, and patients return to normal activity the same day with few restrictions.

        CVR accepts many insurances, including Aetna, Amerigroup, Anthem, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Cigna, MultiPlan, Medicaid, Medicare, and more, making your vein care affordable.

        Call 240-965-3915 to speak to a Patient Services Representative or schedule your consultation online at a CVR near you today.

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