Every year there are an estimated 500,000 to 780,000 reported cases of pulmonary embolism in the United States. Death from this condition can occur in an hour or less, and it is fatal 26 percent of the time. Those are frightening statistics, and enough to send you scurrying to your doctor for an examination. The truth is, though that there are several things you can do to decrease your risk of developing pulmonary embolisms.
First, What Is a Pulmonary Embolism?
A definition from Wikipedia says it is a “blockage of the artery in the lungs by a substance that has traveled from elsewhere in the body through the bloodstream.” The substance is usually a blood clot. It can form in several areas of your body, but most often comes from your legs. A Massive Pulmonary Embolism is a blockage of 50 percent and must be addressed immediately.
If you, or if your close family members, have a history of clots, your risk may be elevated. The risk factors for pulmonary embolism also include obesity, smoking, heart disease and cancer, excessive weight gain in pregnancy and taking estrogen, such as that found in birth control pills or in hormone replacement therapy.
Pulmonary embolism symptoms are similar to heart attack: shortness of breath and chest pain. You may also cough up blood. If the clots are in your legs, you may notice they are swollen and red. They may feel warm to the touch. You could also have low blood oxygenation and rapid breathing and heart rate.
These Clots Are Known as Deep Vein Thrombosis
Preventing DVT is one of the most obvious preventative measures against Pulmonary Embolisms. After you have surgery, blood tends to pool in your legs because they are inactive. That is why, even though you may be in a lot of pain, your nurse may insist that you begin taking short walks soon after the operation, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
If you cannot stand or walk, the hospital may use pneumatic compressors to keep the blood from pooling. These are cuffs that inflate every so often to exert pressure on your legs and stimulate the muscles and veins to move the blood. The nurses may have you wear the cuffs in addition to walking as another preventative measure. They may also ask you to wear compression stockings.
Another measure employed by the hospital is the use of anticoagulant drugs. These have names like Warfarin or Heparin. After you leave the hospital, you will probably be asked to keep taking the drugs for several months; your risk of having another embolism is greater in the first weeks, but may persist longer depending upon what caused it. Some people with recurring incidences may have to take the drugs for the rest of their lives.
Having surgery is not the only risk factor for developing the blood clots. Long trips may also result in stagnant blood pooling and clotting. That is why you should stop and get out to walk every hour or so and drink fluids when you are driving, according to advice on the Web MD website. If you can’t get up and walk, you can fidget or massage your legs. Every 15 to 30 minutes, you should flex your ankles, and you should not sit with your legs crossed for long periods of time. Keeping your legs elevated helps too.
You may be advised to wear compression socks at home or while you travel. The newest types even come in “sport” lengths and dress socks so that they will not interfere with your wardrobe.
Prevent Pulmonary Embolism by Staying Active
Doctors recommend 150 minutes of exercise a week. That translates to about half an hour five days a week.
Walking is one of the best exercises. If you have had surgery, you can progress from the walks around the nurses’ station to strolls down the hall. At home, you can begin with walks around the block or around your local shopping mall or through your grocery store. You should try for one 30-minute walk five days a week.
A good exercise to combat pulmonary embolism is ankle flexes. Lift one leg and straighten your knee, point your toes straight ahead and hold that position for five seconds. Release the pose for five seconds and then, still keeping your leg straight, point your toes toward your body for five seconds and then return to your first pose. Try for ten reps of this exercise. You can do this at your office desk, in a recliner or in the car on a long trip.
Toe-standing is another exercise you can try. Hold onto a chair or rail for balance, stand with your feet at shoulder-width, and slowly rise to your tip toes. Hold the pose for five seconds and then lower to original position. Ten repetitions of this is a good goal.
Swimming will also help prevent the clots from blocking your arteries. It also strengthens your heart and lungs. Aim for swimming across the pool and back twice.
Another Way to Prevent PE Is Controlling Your Weight
Obesity is a major risk factor for PE. That is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more. Weight control is often a reason people give for continuing to smoke, but smoking also contributes to the blockages. Even if you quit smoking, you can control your weight through activity and through a healthy diet. Diets high in cholesterol and fats can lead to atherosclerosis, which has been linked to the development of clots. Rice and fruit are good components of a healthy diet. So are chicken and fatty fish. Oats, apples and other fruits and an abundance of vegetables are good choices.
You should, however, limit your consumption of kale, broccoli and other leafy green vegetables if you are taking warfarin because they contain vitamin K, which can interfere with its effectiveness. Still, nutritionists do not advocate cutting these foods from the diet completely. Cranberry products should also be eaten in limited quantities for the same reason. Surprisingly, licorice is another culprit that you should not consume if you are on anticoagulants. In addition, you should limit alcohol consumption.
These measures, taking steps to avoid DVT and making lifestyle changes such as having a healthy diet and staying active, along with regular checkups with your physician can help you prevent pulmonary embolism. If you have already experienced blockage caused by blood clots, the things listed here may keep the blockage from reoccurring, and making you one of the half-a-million cases that will be diagnosed this year.