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Time Matters With Pulmonary Embolisms

Quick action can save your life, experts say

FRIDAY, Jan. 16, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The symptoms of a pulmonary embolism may resemble a heart attack -- shortness of breath and sharp chest pain -- and it can be just as deadly.

Pulmonary embolism occurs when one or more blood clots lodge in lung arteries and cut off blood flow to lung tissue. Prompt treatment is essential to prevent death.

The signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism vary with the size, number, and location of clots in the lungs and the size of the area affected by lack of blood flow, says an article in the January issue of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter.

Some people experience no symptoms. Others suffer gradual shortness of breath for no apparent reason, sharp chest pain when they inhale, sudden breathlessness, dizziness, fainting, or they may cough up blood.

Treatment for pulmonary embolism usually requires hospitalization for several days. Patients typically receive blood-thinning drugs to stop the growth of existing clots and to prevent new clots.

The first step in preventing pulmonary embolism is to be aware of the risk factors and avoid them. Long periods of inactivity, such as during car or plane travel, can increase the risk. When you travel you should take breaks and walk when possible. Flex and stretch your feet and legs frequently.

People who are bedridden due to illness or surgery are at increased risk. Ask your doctor what can be done to prevent clotting in that situation.

Lifestyle can also affect your risk of pulmonary embolism. Stop smoking and lose weight.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about pulmonary embolism.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, January 2004
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