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Acute Pulmonary Embolism Treatment

There are several ways to treat an acute pulmonary embolism, including: lifestyle changes, medications and surgery. Your doctor will work with you to determine which approach will yield the best results for you. 

Lifestyle

A safe and inexpensive way to keep blood circulating is the use of compression stockings. These stockings slowly squeeze your legs, helping your veins and leg muscles move blood more efficiently. Another way to help improve blood flow is with the use of pneumatic compression cuffs. These cuffs (thigh-high or calf-high) automatically inflate with air and deflate every few minutes to massage and squeeze the veins in your legs. Also make changes that can reduce the risk of developing pulmonary embolism, including moving around as much as possible and elevating your legs at night.

Medications

Blood thinners, such as Heparin, are prescribed to prevent new clots from forming while your body works to break up existing clots. These medications can work quickly and are often taken for several days with an oral anticoagulant, such as warfarin. In addition, clot dissolvers, such as Streptokinase, are prescribed to quickly dissolve the existing clots. Because these medications can cause sudden and severe bleeding, they usually are reserved for life-threatening situations.

Procedures, Devices & Surgery

When lifestyle changes and medications don’t reduce the frequency or severity of your symptoms, you may require surgery.

Examples of surgical therapies include:

  • Clot removal, which uses a catheter (a long, thin, flexible tube) to remove large, life-threatening clots in the lungs. The catheter is inserted into a blood vessel in the groin or arm and maneuvered to the appropriate site where it is used to either remove the clot or deliver medicine that breaks it up.
     
  • Vein filter is used when anticoagulant drugs aren’t an option, or when they aren’t working fast enough. During this procedure, a filter is placed in the body’s main vein (inferior vena cava) to prevent clots from being carried to the lungs. These filters can be removed once they are no longer needed.