Fast, hidden killer: pulmonary embolism

By Elizabeth Temple - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) – An estimated 2 percent of all deaths are caused by pulmonary embolisms, a clot that travels to the lungs. This fast moving and deadly clot can strike even the healthiest person. Tennis mega-star Serena Williams narrowly survived a pulmonary embolism after recovering from a previous injury. The disease claimed the life of a former Miss Argentina who suddenly died after a plastic surgery procedure in 2009.

"Sometimes patients will be in a hospital bed. [They'll] get up to go to the bathroom and the clot travels to their lungs and they collapse. It can happen that fast," warned Dr. Craig Broussard, Pulmonologist at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital.

Heart disease, cancer and birth control pills can put you a greater risk for pulmonary embolism, but inactivity is another main cause, said Dr. Broussard.

"In an athlete [like Serena Williams] who is a finely tuned individual, has very good muscle tone, [that] all of a sudden slows down…those muscles aren't used and contracting to push the blood through her legs and back up to her heart. Blood can accumulate and become stagnant forming clots," said Dr. Broussard.

Symptoms include fast heart rate, shortness of breath, chest pain and coughing up blood. Many people will not notice any symptoms, so doctors find it hard to detect and diagnose, said Dr. Broussard.

He adds the treatment and prevention of pulmonary embolisms has improved in the past 20 years because physicians administer blood thinners from the start. He also believes the statistic, 2 percent of all deaths are caused pulmonary embolisms, is under-estimated.

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