How Pulmonary Embolism Is Treated
Treatment is aimed at keeping the blood clot from getting bigger and preventing new clots from forming. Prompt treatment is essential to prevent serious complications or death.
Blood thinners or anticoagulants are the most common treatment for a blood clot in the lung. While hospitalized an injection is used, but this will be transitioned into a pill regimen when the patient is sent home. Thanks to medical advancements, many patients are good candidates for taking blood thinner tablets which do not require routine monitoring. Patients will normally have to take medications regularly for an indefinite amount of time, usually at least 3 months. However, it is important to work with your doctor to find the best possible treatment for your condition.
It is important to note that blood thinners won’t dissolve the blood clot. In most cases, the hope is your body will eventually dissolve the clot on its own. If it doesn’t, more drastic measures may need to be taken.
Clot dissolvers called thrombolytics are a medication reserved for life-threatening situations because they can cause sudden and severe bleeding. For a very large, life-threatening clot, doctors may suggest removing it via a thin, flexible tube (catheter) threaded through your blood vessels.
Managing Pulmonary Embolism
While a pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening, most patients survive and need to learn how to live with the risk of recurrence. Your healthcare provider may prescribe anticoagulants, or blood thinners, which may be needed for as little as three months but can be required for the remainder of a patient’s life. The length of treatment depends on the underlying cause.
Appropriate caution must be taken due to the bleeding risk when on anticoagulants. Your doctor may suggest staying away from certain foods (such as foods rich in vitamin K), alcohol, or some over-the-counter medicines (such as aspirin and sleeping pills). It is also important for people taking blood thinners to be careful not to over-exert themselves during exercise.
Compression socks are a helpful tool for preventing PE occurrences. Because pulmonary embolism often starts in the legs, the increased pressure on the leg muscles forces blood to move, discouraging clots.
In the rare circumstances in which blood thinners cannot be used or do not seem to be working, your physician may suggest an inferior vena cava (IVC) filter. The filter is surgically inserted inside a large vein called the vena cava. The filter catches blood clots from the legs before they travel to the lungs, which prevents pulmonary embolism. However, the filter doesn't stop new blood clots from forming. If your physician suggests this as an appropriate device for you, be sure to have an in-depth discussion to fully understand the risks and benefits.
In three to four percent of PE patients, the arteries can form scar-like tissue which blocks or narrow the arteries, leading to a form of pulmonary hypertension called chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH). If you continue to have breathing difficulty 6 months after a pulmonary embolism you should talk to your doctor and get tested for CTEPH.
Your physician may complete a "hypercoagulability" evaluation on you at some point after your diagnosis. This could include blood tests looking for a genetic cause of your DVT. If there is no identifiable risk factor, your physician may recommend additional tests to search for other health conditions.
For More Information:
Some resources available to patients include:
Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.
Page last updated: October 23, 2020