Pulmonary embolism (PE) is usually caused by a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis, or “DVT”) formed in the deep veins of one or both legs, although it is possible for DVTs to form in any deep vein in the body. Unless the DVT is discovered and treated, all or part of the clot will enter the bloodstream and travel into the lungs where it lodges in a pulmonary artery and blocks the flow of blood into the lungs. Because the oxygen-depleted blood is unable to reach the lungs, the body suddenly becomes starved for oxygen. Without immediate relief, the patient may suffer devastating injuries, including brain injury, permanent lung and heart damage or death.
DVTs are more likely to develop in your legs if you experience long periods of inactivity, such as being confined to bed, having a cast on your leg or being immobile during any type of surgery under general anesthesia. The risk of DVT and PE developing during surgery increases with the length of time the patient remains under general anesthesia. Although the patient’s surgeon and other health care professionals are responsible for taking the appropriate precautions to prevent the occurrence of DVT and PE, this devastating medical condition often takes place post-surgery, in a hospital environment.
Post-operative precautions to avoid venous thromboembolism may include the patient wearing compression stockings or pneumatic compression cuffs (to massage and squeeze the leg veins to improve circulation) or taking medication to prevent blood from clotting too quickly. If a DVT or PE is suspected, the patient will undergo testing, including blood sampling to determine how quickly the patient’s blood is clotting (PT, PTT and/or INR tests) and whether the blood shows evidence of clots (D-dimer test). Imaging studies may also be ordered, to view the patient’s deep veins (Doppler ultrasound), lungs (chest X-ray, CT, spiral CT and MRI), and pulmonary arteries (pulmonary angiogram test).
Treatment of DVT and PE is designed to prevent any existing blood clot from getting bigger and stop any new blood clots from forming and traveling to the lungs. Blood thinning medications (anticoagulants) prevent new clots from forming. Clot dissolving drugs (thrombolytics) break up clots quickly. Surgical procedures are also used to treat dangerous blood clots: large, life-threatening clots can be surgically removed from the deep veins and surgery to implant a vein filter can help trap clots before they reach the lungs.
- As many as 900,000 people are impacted by DVT/PE every year.
- Up to 100,000 of these 900,000 individuals die due to complications.
- Approximately 33% of patients who have had DVT and PE will experience another DVT and PE within 10 years.
Pulmonary embolism is the most common cause of preventable death in patients hospitalized for surgical procedures. Recent studies have also recognized PE as one of the most frequently missed diagnoses in living patients. If you would like to discuss a potential claim arising from a DVT or PE, the attorneys at Yost Legal Group are experienced professionals ready to investigate your claim with compassion and determination. For a free consultation, please call us at 1-800-YOST-LAW (967-8529).