Recent studies have shown that asthmatics are more prone to pulmonary embolism than the general population. This lung condition can be deadly, but can be treated if caught early.
A pulmonary embolism causes a blockage in one or more arteries in the lungs. The blockage is typically caused when a blood clot (known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT) forms in an artery of the leg, and breaks free. After breaking free, the blood clot then travels to the lungs where it creates a blockage in an artery or blood vessel in the lung.
New Study of Embolisms and Asthma
The study, conducted by the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, looked at about 650 asthmatics, ranging in age from 18 to 88. Researchers found those who had severe asthma were about nine times more likely to experience lung embolism than the general population. Asthmatics that have mild to moderate asthma were about 3.5 times more likely to have a lung embolism when compared to the general population. Researchers also found oral corticosteroids could be a potential risk factor for lung embolisms in people with asthma. Though the study found an increased risk for blood clots in the lung(s), researchers were unable to find a direct cause and effect between pulmonary embolism and asthma.
Symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism
The typical signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism can be mistaken for asthma:
• Shortness of breath: can occur suddenly, whether at you’re active or at rest.
• Chest pain: can feel similar to heart attack pain.
• Cough: may produce blood or blood-streaked sputum.
• Leg swelling and/or pain (typically in one leg)
• Soreness, tenderness and/or warmth in the leg(s)
• Clammy or bluish-colored skin
• Excessive sweating
• Rapid or irregular heartbeat
• Weak pulse
• Lightheadedness or fainting
One way to tell the difference between asthma and pulmonary embolism is that rescue inhalers will not relieve your symptoms. In addition, symptoms will not improve if you are active or lying down—they will stay the same, regardless.
Pulmonary Embolism Risk Factors
Pulmonary embolism risk factors include:
• Age: older people are more prone to develop clots.
• Family history: you’re higher risk of developing blood clots if family members have experienced blood clots in the past.
• Surgery and long periods of bed rest: surgery is one of the leading causes of blood clots, as are long periods of bed rest.
• Travel: travelers who sit for long periods run the risk of developing DVT, possibly leading to a pulmonary embolism.
• Certain medical conditions create a higher risk factor for blood blots:
a. Cancer and cancer treatments
c. Previous history of blood clots
d. Surgery or trauma (especially to the legs)
e. Heart failure
f. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
g. Varicose veins
In addition, taking estrogen in HRT or birth control pills can increase the chance of having DVT that leads to a blood clot in the lungs.
Prevention of Pulmonary Embolism
The only way to prevent pulmonary embolism is to prevent deep vein thrombosis. Prevention of DVT includes:
• Wearing compression stockings (stockings that compress the veins and keep blood from flowing backward)
• Using pneumatic compression machines after surgery or when unable to move for long periods (involves sleeves on the legs that are connected to a device that puts alternating pressure on the legs)
• Getting up and out of bed as soon as possible after surgery or an illness
• Medications such as anticoagulants (Heparin and Warafin)
• Eating a healthy diet
• Maintaining a healthy weight
• Stop smoking
When you travel, it’s best if you can get up and move around once every hour or two. If you’re on a plane, walk from your seat to the restroom and back for several minutes. Airlines often provide information about exercises you can do in your seat. If driving or riding in a car, be sure to stop at least every 2 hours in order to get out of the car and walk around for several minutes. In addition, it’s advisable to drink plenty of fluids when traveling, as dehydration can contribute to the development of blood clots.
Asthma and Pulmonary Embolism
The symptoms of asthma and pulmonary embolism can feel the same. It may be difficult to tell if you’re having your normal asthma trouble or if you’re experiencing a blood clot in the lungs. If you believe you’re experiencing a pulmonary embolism, call an ambulance or head to the nearest hospital emergency as soon as possible. Survival depends on getting medical attention as soon as possible.
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