British Heart Foundation: Understanding blood clots
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Pulmonary embolism is a notoriously deadly condition that often strikes without a forewarning. Acting swiftly when the signs appear is therefore of the utmost importance, as it can tip the odds of survival in a person’s favour. One woman’s close shave with death highlights some of the signs to look for.
A pulmonary embolism is diagnosed when a blood vessel in the lung becomes blocked by a blood clot.
The embolus often forms in the lower limbs and travels to the lungs after becoming dislodged and entering the bloodstream.
Once it reaches the lung it often blocks the flow of oxygen to other parts of the body, which can lead to death if treated too late.
E Medicine Health estimates that about 25 percent of people who have pulmonary embolism will die suddenly and that death will be the “only symptom”.
Around 23 percent of people with pulmonary embolism will die within three months of diagnosis, and just over 30 percent will die after six months.
These figures highlight the importance of diagnosing the disease early, but non-specific symptoms often complicate matters as one case study illustrates.
Beth Waldron, was only 34 when she developed deep vein thrombosis and bilateral pulmonary embolism.
Describing her symptoms on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, Beth explained: “My clots were not immediately diagnosed.
“Neither I nor my health care provider recognised my symptoms as due to a blood clot. The leg pain associated with my deep vein thrombosis was initially attributed to a pulled muscle.
“The chest pain and shortness of breath associated with my pulmonary embolism were initially diagnosed as a respiratory infection for which I was prescribed antibiotics.”
Shortness of breath is a classic sign of pulmonary embolism, but the main symptom of the condition is chest pain.
According to Penn Medicine, the pain may be felt under the breastbone or on one side of the body.
Often it is described as a sharp or stabbing sensation, or a burning, aching, or dull and heavy sensation.
“Only after a second PE episode nearly a week later were the correct diagnosed tests performed and an accurate DVT and PE diagnosis,” added Beth.
It wasn’t until she was hospitalised for nine days that a string of tests revealed she was homozygous for the Factor V Leiden mutation, which genetically predisposed her to clotting events.
“This mutation, along with starting oral contraceptives, likely contribute to my closing episode,” noted Beth.
Despite having to remain on blood thinners for life, the 34-year-old is in good health and is using her experience to raise awareness of the condition.
Often, a blood clot occurs due to a change in a person’s physical condition, resulting from pregnancy or surgery.
This means that while some cases of the condition may be averted, this is not always the case.
Preventable causes of blood clots include sitting for prolonged periods of time or being sedentary during travel.
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