A pulmonary embolism (PE) is a blood clot that develops in one of the body’s blood vessels, often in the leg. It breaks free of its mooring and travels to an artery in the lung, where it suddenly blocks blood flow. The clot is known as an embolus, and the blockage is referred to as an embolism. Pulmonary refers to the lungs.
At Comprehensive Vascular Care, our board-certified vascular specialists offer both noninvasive and surgical solutions for treating PEs at their offices in Novi and Southfield, Michigan. They also help you reduce your risk for additional blood clots, in part by educating you about your risks. Here, they describe eight things that increase your risk for developing a PE.
Causes of a pulmonary embolism
Blood clotting is a normal bodily process that works to prevent further bleeding at a wound site. The body makes blood clots to force the area to scab over and then breaks them down. However, under certain circumstances, the body may be unable to break down a clot, resulting in a serious health problem.
When blood clots in a vein, the part of your circulatory system that returns deoxygenated blood to the heart and lung, it can result from slowed blood flow as the blood fights against gravity, from an abnormality in clot forming, or from an injury to the blood vessel wall, such as from high blood pressure.
Blood clots can form in arteries, the part of your circulatory system that delivers oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the body’s tissues, and veins, and they can cause similar problems with slowing and preventing blood flow in each. Veins in the legs can be superficial veins (close to the skin’s surface) or deep veins (located close to bone and surrounded by muscle).
Superficial thrombophlebitis is a condition where small blood clots form in superficial leg veins. While it produces uncomfortable symptoms, it’s rarely the cause of a PE. Venous clots, though, most often happen in the deep leg veins, a condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and they can be serious. Part of the clot may break off and travel through the bloodstream, often to the lungs. DVT is the most common cause of PE development..
Other, though less frequent, causes of PEs are a fat embolus (often related to breaking a large bone), amniotic fluid embolus, air bubbles, and DVT in the upper body.
8 things that increase the risk for a PE
Risk factors for pulmonary embolism include:
- Medical conditions: including high blood pressure, COPD, stroke, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease
- Vein disorders: including varicose veins and leg swelling
- Smoking: restricts blood flow and contributes to “hardening of the arteries”
- Being overweight, obese, or pregnant: puts added pressure on lower limb veins, damaging walls
- Family history of clotting disorders
- Surgery on or injury to legs
- Limited mobility: including extended bed rest, flying long distances, or sedentary lifestyle
- Some medications: including estrogen and hormone replacement therapy
Though not yet confirmed by rigorous studies, some researchers believe COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, may also play a role in PE; people with severe symptoms appear to have an increased risk.
And while it’s not possible to control your genetics, most of the factors that increase your risk for a PE are within your control. See your primary care doctor or specialist to get your medical conditions under control, lose weight if you’re overweight, exercise more, and absolutely quit smoking.
Want to learn more about how to manage your risks for a PE? Call Comprehensive Vascular Care at either of our locations, or schedule online today.