- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Pulmonary Embolism: When Blood In Your Lungs Sticks Together
The first time that I had a blood clot in my lungs I almost died. I remember walking to speech class. I was going to be recorded for my midterm speech. I was feeling shaky and out of breath. I could barely keep up with the people that I was walking with. I thought that it was just one heck of a case of stage fright. Why else would my heart be racing and why else would I be sweaty all over?
I gave my speech. I got an A on it. The symptoms didn't go away. In fact, they didn't even get better. They got worse, and worse.... and worse. It got so bad I couldn't walk halfway up a flight of stairs.
I ended up in the emergency room with a spiral CT scan, a heparin drip, and orders that I couldn't get out of bed, not even to use the restroom. I was told standing up could kill me. My diagnosis? Pulmonary embolism, blood clots in the lungs. In my case, my lungs were filled with multiple clots and these clots were in both lungs. It was amazing that I survived. eMedicine estimates that 30% of people with pulmonary embolisms never make it to the emergency room. They just collapse and die.
I was lucky.
Let me tell you a little bit about pulmonary embolism so that you can protect yourself from this deadly condition.
Why The Body Needs Blood Clots
Blood clots are very necessary. If you get a cut, the blood clots so that you don't bleed to death. Bruises, bumps, cuts, and scrapes are lethal without the ability to clot and stop the bleeding. Problems only start when the body clots when it isn't supposed to.
Pulmonary Embolisms Often Start In The Legs
Many pulmonary embolisms start in the large veins of the legs. They can also form in other veins throughout the body. The lungs act as a type of filter that prevents clots from reaching the brain. The problem is, clots in the lungs can be as deadly as clots in the brain.
Symptoms of a clot in the body, also known as a DVT, deep vein thrombosis, are swelling in one extremity but not the other and the skin turning purple, hot, and inflamed. The area will become very painful. Leg clots, the most common site for a DVT, may feel like a pulled muscle or a leg cramp.
Once a blood clot has formed, it is very likely that it will break off and travel to the lungs. This is where the clot becomes deadly. Lung clots block the flow of oxygen from the lungs to the blood. In order to prevent this common complication of a DVT it is VERY important to go to the emergency room if you ever show signs of a DVT.
If you have any of the following symptoms of a DVT or pulmonary embolism go to the emergency room immediately!
- Swelling in one leg but not the other
- Tight, hot, inflamed area in an extremity.
- Pain that feels like a muscle cramp or pulled muscle
- Extreme leg pain
- Shortness of breath
- Night sweats
- Racing heart
- Chest or back pain
- Sudden inability to get air into your lungs