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Clinic gives advice on preventing pulmonary embolism

The Mayo Clinic provides some information about preventing pulmonary embolism, which occurs when a blood clot moves to the lungs. Prompt treatment is necessary to prevent serious complications or death.

Medication is available to prevent the clots that cause pulmonary embolism, but in some cases doctors might recommend a procedure, such as:

Clot removal — If you have a very large clot in your lung and are in shock, your doctor may thread a thin flexible tube called a catheter through your blood vessels and suction out the clot. It can be difficult to remove a clot this way, and the procedure isn’t always successful.

Surgery — If you’re in shock and clot-dissolving medication isn’t working quickly enough, your doctor might attempt emergency surgery. This is rare, and the goal is to remove as many blood clots as possible, especially if there’s a large clot in the main pulmonary artery.

Vein filter — A catheter can also be used to place a filter in the main vein — called the inferior vena cava — that leads from the legs to the right side of the heart. The filter is meant to catch and stop clots moving through the blood stream toward the lungs. Filter insertion is typically reserved for people who can’t take anticoagulant drugs or in cases where anticoagulant drugs don’t work well enough.

But IVC filters can be dangerous. A study conducted by the New England Society for Vascular Surgery noted a 31 percent fracture rate in IVC filters. Most of the broken filter shards ended up in patients’ right ventricles of the heart, which is potentially deadly.

Medications to treat pulmonary embolism include:

Anticoagulants — The drugs heparin and warfarin prevent new clots from forming. Heparin works quickly and is usually delivered with a needle. Warfarin comes in pill form and doesn’t start working until a few days after your first dose. Risks include bleeding and easy bruising.

Clot dissolvers (thrombolytics) — While clots usually dissolve on their own, certain medications can dissolve clots quickly. Because clot-busting drugs can cause sudden and severe bleeding, they usually are reserved for life-threatening situations.

If you’ve received an IVC filter, you should consult with a doctor if you have any ongoing symptoms or health concerns. If you have significant injuries from an IVC filter, you should also consult with a lawyer to discuss your legal rights.

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