What are the treatment options for pulmonary embolism?

Treatments for a pulmonary embolism (a sudden blood clot in a lung artery) may include emergency therapies to break up the clot and medicines to prevent future clots from forming.

In an emergency situation, when a pulmonary embolism is life-threatening, doctors may do surgery to try to remove the clot and/or give you drugs called thrombolytics to dissolve the clot.

If your life is not in immediate danger, your doctor may prescribe anticoagulant drugs that can thin your blood slightly and minimize the risk for developing clots. Since many pulmonary embolisms are caused by blood clots that start in the legs and travel to the lungs, your doctor may also prescribe the use of support hose/compression stockings to keep legs from swelling and keep blood from pooling and clotting.

Treatments for pulmonary embolism include medications and surgical procedures. Anticoagulants, also called blood thinners, such as heparin and warfarin, can prevent clots from forming and may be administered in pill form, by injection or IV. Another kind of drug used to treat pulmonary embolism is a thrombolytic, which dissolves clots; however, this drug can be very dangerous, causing severe bleeding, so it is saved for situations where someone with pulmonary embolism is in danger of dying. Hospital procedures can treat pulmonary embolism as well. Your doctor can remove large clots with a thin tube inserted in a major blood vessel and passed through your blood vessels to your lungs. If other treatments fail, a vena cava filter, which is a device implanted in the inferior vena cava (a large vein that blood travels through as it returns to the heart), can catch blood clots before they get to the lungs.

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