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By definition, a pulmonary embolism occurs when the major artery to the lung is blocked. In most cases, this blockage is caused by a blood clot that traveled from another area of the body, but it could also be caused by a tumor, air in the bloodstream, fat in the blood vessels, or amniotic fluid.
Usually pulmonary embolisms are not deadly, although they can damage the lung. If the blockage cuts off the blood to the lungs, however, it can be fatal. The main artery which carries blood from the heart to the lungs is the pulmonary artery. The pulmonary embolism can occur in this major artery or it can block one of the branches of the artery.
One important fact regarding this complication is that it does not begin in the lungs. These blockages actually begin in other parts of the body and then travel towards the lungs. The most common culprit in these instances is deep vein thrombosis, which is a blood clot in the leg. This begs the question, what exactly is a blood clot?
Blood clotting is actually an important part of the function of the body as it is what stops a person from bleeding to death when they are injured. It is when the blood clots for other reasons that it can cause serious consequences. If the body thinks that an artery or blood vessel is damaged, even slightly, the blood can clot around it. In cases of pulmonary embolism, the blood clot can move towards the lungs where it blocks the necessary blood from entering the lung.
Pulmonary Embolism: Signs & Symptoms
How do you know if you are suffering from a pulmonary embolism (PE)? There are some signs that you may be suffering from a PE, but these will differ based on whether or not is small or major. For example, a minor PE may not have any symptoms at all. Symptoms which could arise include an accelerated heart rate, a slight fever, shortness of breath, pain in your chest, or coughing up blood or a pink mucous. While these symptoms do not necessarily mean that you are suffering from a pulmonary embolism, it is still important that you seek medical attention following these symptoms.
In more severe cases of pulmonary embolism, the symptoms will be more pronounced. Some of the symptoms will be the same as a minor case of PE, but will be on a higher level. Breathlessness will increase as well the pain felt by the individual in the center of their chest. It will also bring with it a general feeling of being unwell and some will faint because of the interference with the blood circulation. Perhaps the most extreme side effect to a pulmonary embolism is that it can cause cardiac arrest.
Treating Pulmonary Embolism
First of all, diagnosing pulmonary embolism can sometimes be difficult as it can bring on other complications. It may appear that the patient is suffering from a heart attack or even pneumonia because the symptoms look identical. By looking for blood clots through a blood test, ultrasound, or other scan, the doctor may be able to detect if the patient is suffering from a PE. If it is determined that a pulmonary embolism is the cause of the symptoms, a drug called anticoagulants could be prescribed.
This not only prevents new blood clots from forming, but it can also stop preexisting blood clots from developing. If the patient is suffering from a massive pulmonary embolism, the physician may choose to use a thrombolytic drug. These drugs are known as "clot-busting" drugs and are only used when necessary because it can case other complications, such as severe bleeding.
In some patients, it is too dangerous to give them blood thinning drugs or drugs that reduce blood clots. In other cases, the patient is given the required drugs, but the clot continues to develop regardless. When this occurs, surgery may be necessary in order to treat the PE. One type of surgery involves inserting a filter into the vein which carries blood to the heart. This can effectively stop clots that are traveling to the lungs. The reason this is so important is because once a patient has suffered from a PE, they are much more likely to have it again. Patients may be put on blood thinners for the rest of their lives in order to ensure it does not happen again.
Medical Malpractice & PE
How could medical malpractice be involved in a pulmonary embolism case? Knowing the difficulty in diagnosing a PE as well as the complications which can arise during treatment, it is easy to understand how one small oversight or error by the doctor could result in serious consequences. The frightening truth is a PE is one of the main causes of unnecessary hospital deaths in the U.S. If it can be proven that the physician should have been able to diagnose the condition had they followed the generally accepted standard of medical care, it could be a case of negligence. Once they have diagnosed the PE, they could also be held liable if they did not respond properly during the treatment of the patient.
For more information, please contact a New York medical malpractice lawyer from our team at the Law Offices of Joseph M. Lichtenstein, PC as soon as possible.
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