Interventional Radiology for Pulmonary Embolism

Henry Ford Interventional Radiology offers advanced treatment for pulmonary embolism, a potentially life-threatening condition.

A pulmonary embolism is a specific type of thrombosis – a blood clot that has partially or completely blocked a pulmonary artery, which carries blood to the lungs. A pulmonary embolism typically starts as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in the leg, then travels to the pulmonary arteries in the lung where it becomes trapped and can disrupt the oxygen supply. A pulmonary embolism is not always fatal, but it can cause cardiac arrest and sometimes death. It is critical that any pulmonary embolism treatment is administered as soon as possible.

Pulmonary embolism causes and risk factors

As with deep vein thrombosis, poor circulation due to sickness, injury or extended periods of inactivity can increase the risk of developing a DVT or pulmonary embolism. Other risk factors for developing a pulmonary embolism include:

  • A family or personal history of pulmonary embolism
  • Existing lung or heart disease
  • Undergoing recent surgery
  • Being over the age of 40
  • Use of hormone therapy or oral contraceptives, especially with smoking
  • Being pregnant or in post-partum time period
  • A history or presence of cancer
  • Abnormalities in your blood’s ability to coagulate (often genetic)
  • Obesity

Often, there is a combination of two or more factors (for example, oral contraceptives, smoking and a long car trip) that result in a DVT.

Pulmonary embolism symptoms

The most common symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Leg pain or swelling

Pulmonary embolism diagnosis

Before Henry Ford Interventional Radiology can perform any treatment, we must first confirm the presence of a pulmonary embolism. This diagnosis process may include:

  • Combined scans: A computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest in combination with a Doppler ultrasound of the legs to safely rule out the presence of a pulmonary embolism or DVT
  • Chest X-ray: To rule out other pulmonary causes for the symptoms
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): To distinguish a pulmonary embolism from a heart attack
  • Echocardiogram (TTE or TEE): To assess the effect of the PE (if present) on the heart. A large PE can cause heart strain or even collapse of the heart’s circulatory function.

Pulmonary embolism treatment

Henry Ford Interventional Radiology offers several pulmonary embolism treatment options, including:

  • Catheter-directed thrombolysis: Infusing drugs over time to dissolve the thrombosis.
  • Ekos® or Trellis®: These thrombolysis devices break down the clot by using the drug tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), ultrasound or mechanically fragmenting the clot with a catheter (tube).

Our interventional radiologists also are experts in the use of inferior vena cava filters to help prevent a DVT from traveling to the lungs and becoming a pulmonary embolism. Your particular pulmonary embolism treatment will depend on the size of the clot, its location and other factors.

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