Pulmonary Embolism Treatment

Treatment options for pulmonary embolism (PE) include:

  • Anticoagulants. Also described as blood thinners, these medications decrease the ability of the blood to clot. This helps stop a clot from getting bigger and keep new clots from forming. Examples include warfarin (Coumadin) and heparin.
  • Fibrinolytic therapy. Also called clot busters, these medications are given intravenously (IV or into a vein) to break down the clot. These drugs are only used in life-threatening situations.
  • Vena cava filter. A small metal device placed in the vena cava (the large blood vessel that returns blood from the body to the heart) may be used to keep clots from traveling to the lungs. These filters are generally used when you can't get anticoagulation treatment (for medical reasons), develop more clots even with anticoagulation treatment, or when you have bleeding problems from anticoagulation medications.
  • Pulmonary embolectomy. Rarely used, this is surgery done to remove a PE. It is generally done only in severe cases when your PE is very large, you can't get anticoagulation and/or thrombolytic therapy due to other medical problems or you haven't responded well to those treatments, or your condition is unstable.
  • Percutaneous thrombectomy. A long, thin, hollow tube (catheter) can be threaded through the blood vessel to the site of the embolism guided by X-ray. Once the catheter is in place, it's used to break up the embolism, pull it out, or dissolve it using thrombolytic medication.

An important aspect of treating a PE is preventive treatment to prevent formation of additional embolisms.

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