As Illinois residents know, there are many medical situations when time is critical, and this is true with pulmonary embolism. Getting to an emergency room and obtaining a correct diagnosis makes a difference in terms of outcome. Pulmonary embolisms happen when blood clots break off and move to the lungs, usually from the lower extremity or hip area. Such blood clots may happen when an individual does not move for long periods such as on a long car trip or airplane flight. It also might occur after surgery or accidents. Individuals with a history of clotting problems, heart surgery, myocardial infarction, stroke, cancer or estrogen use have a higher risk.
When the thrombus breaks off and blocks a pulmonary artery, the patient may experience a variety of symptoms including sharp or dull chest pain under the ribs that worsens with breathing, dizziness, fainting, wheezing, rapid breathing and decreased blood pressure. Individuals might also experience sudden shortness of breath, clammy skin and increased heart rate.
At the emergency room, the doctor may check oxygen blood levels and blood gases. Additional tests include a CT scan or an ultrasound of the extremities. Once a diagnosis of pulmonary embolism is made, blood thinners may be used to dissolve the clot or thin the blood so future clots do not form.
Since diagnosis and timely treatment are necessary, it is important that the attending physician add pulmonary embolism to the differential diagnosis. Emergency room error in evaluating a patient with pulmonary embolism may result in death. When a family member dies because of improper or delayed diagnosis, the family may seek to bring a malpractice suit against the doctor or health care facility. An attorney may review the case with the benefit of expert advice and, if negligence occurred, bring such an action on the family's behalf.
Source: Medline Plus, "Pulmonary embolus", December 08, 2014