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Blood Clot in the Lungs: Symptoms, Signs & Treatment

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

While blood clots are usually useful, sometimes they can form in the wrong places and wreak havoc on a person's body. This lesson will examine blood clots in the lungs and will discuss symptoms and treatment options for this dangerous type of blood clot.

What is a Blood Clot?

Most of the time, blood flows easily through your veins and arteries. It's a beautiful system. When you get a cut, your body has a nice solution so you don't lose a bunch of blood. And what is this solution? A blood clot, which is when parts of your blood, called platelets, clump together to form a scab so you don't lose anymore blood. Sometimes, though, blood clots form in the wrong places, like in the lungs. Or they form in other parts of the body and travel to the lungs where they eventually get stuck. Either way, it can be very serious.

When blood clots form in the wrong places, they can block blood flow.
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This lesson will look at the symptoms, signs, and treatment for blood clots in the lungs, otherwise known as a pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary means 'lung' and 'embolism' means a blocking of an artery (which is a vessel that carries blood), so you can see how pulmonary embolism gets its name.

Signs and Symptoms

So you're minding your own business when a blood clot forms in your lungs, or a clot forms elsewhere and then travels to your lungs. Because there is a blocking of blood flow, the lungs don't function correctly so, oftentimes, the first symptom is difficultly breathing. Other symptoms someone suffering from a pulmonary embolism may encounter include:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing (sometimes coughing up blood)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Sweating
  • Fainting

Treatment

Now that you have a blood clot lodged in your lungs, and you are experiencing all of the unpleasant symptoms we just mentioned, how do medical personnel treat you? Well, it depends a lot on the severity and location of the clot; treatments range from surgically removing the clot to taking medications. Let's take a closer look at some of the treatments.

There are a couple of medications doctors can prescribe. The first are blood thinners called anticoagulants. Like their name suggests, blood thinners can 'thin' your blood, which prevents your blood from clumping together and forming clots. This prevents the clot from getting larger, or new clots from forming. The second is a class of medication that can actually dissolve the existing clot.

Surgically, there are a few things that can be done. First, doctors can remove the clot by inserting a catheter, or a small tube, and sucking the clot out.

A catheter can be inserted into the body and the clot can be sucked out. This is less invasive than open surgery
cathe

Second, doctors can perform surgery where the chest is opened and doctors try to break up and remove the clot. This is often done if a person is in very bad shape and the clot is not responding to medication. Finally, if doctors find a clot in the legs of a patient, they can insert a vein filter to prevent the clot from flowing up into the lungs as a preventative measure.

Lesson Summary

Hopefully doctors were able to remove the blood clot, or when parts of your blood (platelets) clump together and form a plug, from your lung. Remember, sometimes blood clots in the lung are referred to as pulmonary embolisms (pulmonary=lung and embolism=blocking of an artery). With the removal of the blood clot, some of your signs and symptoms should diminish such as: difficulty breathing, chest pain, coughing, sweating, fainting, and an increased pulse and breathing rate.

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