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Breaking Down Pulmonary Embolism: November 18, 2012

When tennis star Serena Williams was treated for a pulmonary embolism, many people didn’t know what it was. A pulmonary embolism results when a blood clot travels from another part of the body, usually the legs, and lodges in the lungs.

“The blood clot itself gets bigger and bigger until it reaches its threshold and it breaks off. Then it starts traveling through your body and it travels to the point of least resistance, smallest blood vessel, which happens to be the lungs,” says Dr. Javaad Khan, a pulmonologist and critical care physician with Lee Memorial Health System.

The condition not as rare as you might think Some 6 million people develop a blood clot every year, about 600-thousand of them end up with a pulmonary embolism. It can be fatal, but it is also very treatable.

“If you’ve developed one blood clot, the treatment is usually three to six months with the blood thinners. If you have a blood disorder, which predisposes you we keep you on it for life,” says Dr. Khan.

A large clot can lead to heart failure, and may require an immediate delivery of clot busting drugs.

“If you have heart failure, radiologists can either put a catheter directly into that vessel itself and give a clot buster from a thrombolytic type of medicine and it dissolves the clot almost instantaneously. ER physicians can also nurse that blood clotting medicine but they do it through an IV in your arm,” says Dr. Khan.

Pulmonary embolisms are linked to deep vein thrombosis, along with hospitalizations, surgeries, long periods of inactivity, even genetics. If you have any concerns, consult your doctor. Getting proper treatment is your best shot at bouncing back-like Serena Williams.