The Dangers Of Embolisms Explained
As with many words in medical terminology, embolism comes from the Greek language, from the word embolus - which means a plug or a stopper.
Here are a couple of definitions about embolus and embolism:
- "Embolism - a condition where an object called an embolus is created in one part of the body, circulates throughout the body, and then blocks blood flowing through a vessel in another part of the body." From - MNT (Medical News Today)
- "An embolus is any foreign body - object or substance - that shouldn't be present in your blood. Foreign bodies that cause embolisms are known as emboli - a single emboli is called an embolus." From - NHS UK
In order to make things clear - an embolus is an object or substance that is travelling in your blood. When it does become lodged in a blood vessel, then the resulting blockage is referred to as an embolism.
Embolisms can take many forms and caused by various circumstances, so let's have a look at these now.
Types of emboli and embolisms
We'll now look at the various types of emboli and embolism that can develop within the body:
Main types of embolus
There are several main forms that an embolus can take:
Each of these can then cause a different kind of embolism to occur.
- Air - the most common people to suffer from an air embolism are scuba divers, if they run out of air or surface too quickly. Other causes are rare but include air being introduced through an intravenous infusion (drip) in hospital, and also during some forms of surgery. The air embolism or bubble often travels to the lungs where they become trapped in the small air sacs so causing an embolism. Embolisms that occur in the lungs are called pulmonary embolisms - this condition is one of the most frequent types of embolism and can be fatal.
- Fat - the main cause of a fat embolus entering the blood stream is when long bones fracture - such as the thigh bone (femur) - or having an operation carried out on the long bones. The reason for this is that fat deposits from inside these bones might be released into the blood stream after injury. In addition, people who have severe burns can also be at risk of fatty deposits from damaged skin entering the blood stream.
- Blood - the blood has to contain natural clotting devices in order to prevent excessive bleeding from a cut for example. However, when people are over weight or have certain medical conditions such as heart disease, then the blood can form clots in blood vessels that are damaged. Part or all of the clot may break away and begin to travel in the blood stream, where it can be become lodged in various areas so causing an embolism. In some forms of cancer, there is also a risk of blood clots forming in the blood vessels.
- Bacteria - when there is a severe infection in the body by bacteria, they can form a plug that may block a vessel. In addition, parts of this bacterial plug can break off, travel in the blood stream and cause an embolism somewhere in the body.
- Cholesterol - the people who are most at risk from this type of embolus are those who have developed severe atherosclerosis. This is a narrowing of blood vessels due to the build up of cholesterol particles. Sometimes these particles can break off and lead to an embolism elsewhere in the body.
Let's now look at what happens when the embolus does get trapped in specific areas of the body.
The types of embolism that can develop
When the embolus travels in the blood stream there is always a danger that it will become lodged in an area of the body where the blood vessels are particularly small. Depending on where they block blood vessels they will come under a specific medical term. The main forms of embolism are:
There are others, but we'll concentrate on the most common forms.
A pulmonary embolism happens when an embolus lodges in the lungs. Many people who suffer from a pulmonary embolism had developed a blood clot in one of the large veins in the leg, known as a DVT - deep vein thrombosis. When a piece of this deep vein blood clot breaks off, it is common for it to travel in the blood stream, then getting trapped in the tiny air sacs of the lungs. However, other types of embolus can also get lodged in the lungs in the same way.
Once again the majority of embolisms in the cerebral (brain) area are caused by blood clots. Cerebral embolism is one of the major causes of stroke. However, the other types of emboli can also cause an embolism in the brain.
Even in the arteries where blood is fast flowing, emboli can form - usually when the artery is diseased or in some way damaged. In particular, people with atherosclerosis have pieces of plaque from inside of the vessel breaking away, causing an embolism elsewhere. In addition, because with atherosclerosis the blood vessels are more constricted, it is much easier for pieces of blood clot or other forms of emboli from somewhere else in the body to cause an embolism within the artery itself. This is a serious and potentially life threatening situation.
The main risk factors for developing emboli that may then cause an embolism are:
- Smoking - which constricts blood vessels that can allow an embolus to become lodged
- Over weight - especially clinical obesity. Excess weight puts a strain on the heart and circulatory system that may cause damage to the vessels, so increasing the risk of clots etc. In addition, being over weight can lead to other medical conditions that make the risk of developing an embolism even higher.
- Other medical conditions - such as, deep vein thrombosis, diabetes, heart disease and many others.
- Having a surgical operation on the hip or legs can increase the chances of a deep vein thrombosis and other types of clot forming. This may lead to an embolism elsewhere in the body.
- Pregnancy - due to the weight of the baby and general body changes, some women can be at slightly more risk of developing an embolism.
- Age - over the age of 40 people are at higher risk of developing an embolism.
- If a person has had previous blood clots or there is a family history, then this can increase the chances of an embolism forming.
These are some of the main risk factors and I hope the article in general has been useful to you.
If you have any concerns about your health in relation to embolisms or any other condition, then speak to your doctor.
This article is for information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
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