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Precautions to Take After Having a Pulmonary Embolism

written by: Laura Latzko • edited by: Stephanie Mojica • updated: 5/23/2011

A pulmonary embolism, a condition that occurs when the artery that supplies the lung with blood becomes blocked, is a life-threatening condition that can cause death quickly if left untreated. Precautions after having pulmonary embolism include taking blood thinners and regularly moving the legs.

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    Description

    A pulmonary embolism is an obstruction in an artery in the lungs, which develops as a result of a blood clot. The blood clot often begins in another part of the body, such as the legs, and eventually breaks apart and reaches the artery. The condition is considered serious because the blockage often hinders blood from reaching the lungs. People with pulmonary embolisms often die within the same day as they develop the condition because different organs within their body are not able to get the amount of oxygen they need, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

    A pulmonary embolism can cause major damage to one or both of the lungs, and people with the condition often develop heart problems because their heart tries to compensate for the blockage in the artery. Pulmonary embolism symptoms include pain within the chest, shortness of breath, an abnormal heartbeat, the presence of blood when the patient coughs, a bluish tint to the skin or swollen legs. Doctors often use medications, such as blood thinners, to treat patients with pulmonary embolisms; people with severe blockages sometimes have to get surgery to have the pulmonary embolism removed. After getting pulmonary embolism treatment, patients often need to take other precautions after having pulmonary embolism to keep from developing the condition again.

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    Medications and Preventive Measures

    Patients that have had a pulmonary embolism sometimes need to take medications after they have gotten treatment to keep another pulmonary embolism from forming. Doctors often prescribe heparin or warfarin, types of anticoagulants, for patients who have recently had pulmonary embolisms because they can prevent the blood from clotting. People may have to take these blood thinners for up to two months after having a pulmonary embolism, according to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. While they take anticoagulants, patients need to eat fewer foods with high levels of Vitamin K, such as green vegetables, because they often interfere with the drugs. Other medications, including thrombolytic drugs such as streptokinase, are sometimes used to reduce or eliminate blood clots in patients with blood clots in their legs or other parts of their bodies.

    People with certain conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart or kidney disease or cancer, should not take anticoagulants because it can cause patients to bleed more easily. Doctors sometimes surgically place a catheter device in the body’s major abdominal vein, which provides blood to the lungs, to stop blood clots from getting to the lungs from the legs or other parts of the body.

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    Movement

    People who have just had surgery or a heart attack are often at risk of developing a pulmonary embolism because they have to stay in bed for days, weeks or months after getting surgery or treatment. While they are on bedrest, their legs can develop poor blood circulation, which can lead to a blood clot and a pulmonary embolism. Patients that are on bedrest who have recovered from pulmonary embolisms need to follow their doctor's orders and try to recover as soon as possible so that they can start to move their legs again. While they are on bedrest, they should try to exercise, moving or flexing their legs, feet and ankles.

    Patients that regularly move their legs, doing activities such as walking, have a better chance of not developing pulmonary embolisms again. People who often go on long car or plane trips are also at risk of developing pulmonary embolisms because their leg movements are often restricted. These individuals should try to get out of their cars and move around or walk around on planes to get blood circulating in their legs. Wearing compression stockings or boots often helps to prevent pulmonary embolisms.

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    Lifestyle Changes

    People who have had pulmonary embolisms often need to make major lifestyle changes to keep from developing another blockage. They should drink plenty of water every day to keep their body hydrated, which can help their body to work regularly; not drinking enough fluids can cause the development of blood clots, according to the Mayo Clinic. People who are overweight often have problems with blood circulation in their legs, so losing weight can help them to have a better blood flow. Overweight people should exercise and eat a well-balanced diet, high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, to lose weight.

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    References

    “What Is Pulmonary Embolism," National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/pe/pe_what.html

    “Pulmonary Embolism," Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, http://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Pulmonary-Embolism.aspx

    “Pulmonary Embolism," Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pulmonary-embolism/DS00429

    “Pulmonary Embolus," U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000132.htm

    “Pulmonary Embolism," APS Foundation of America, Inc., http://www.apsfa.org/pesymptoms.htm

    “Warfarin," Drugs.com, http://www.drugs.com/warfarin.html

    “Heparin," Drugs.com, http://www.drugs.com/heparin.html

Blood Clots

Blood clots in certain parts of the body, such as the legs, can result in serious conditions such as a pulmonary embolism, or a blockage that develops within the lung's arteries. Patients often need to take anti-coagulants or thrombolytic drugs to reduce the size of or get rid of blood clots.
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