Patient Safety Tips For Preventing Injury From Pulmonary Embolism
Here are three main tips for preventing harm from pulmonary embolism – a lethal but usually preventable killer.
- In the hospital, ask what the blood clot prevention strategy is. An amazing percentage of time it is forgotten by providers busy with other work. At the best hospitals now, simple checklists have been implemented to make sure that every patient’s risk for clots is measured and appropriately acted on. Dr. Joseph Caprini, a Northwestern University surgeon, developed a two-page form that boils down thousands of pages of medical studies into a simple scoring system for clot risk and a recipe for what each level of risk calls for by way of preventive treatment. You can see a copy of the form here. Anybody who has had a clot in the past or who has a family history of clots is at especially high risk, another reason to speak up for any hospitalized family member with that background.
- Learn the signs and symptoms of blood clots in the legs. Here’s a list from the National Institutes of Health:
- Swelling of the leg – either just in the calf or the whole leg, or sometimes along a vein.
- Pain or tenderness in a leg – usually just with one leg. This might happen only when walking or standing.
- Increased warmth in the affected part of the leg that is swollen or that hurts.
- Red or discolored skin on the affected leg
- Learn the warning signs of pulmonary embolism. The problem is that pulmonary embolism usually occurs suddenly. The most common signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism are severe shortness of breath; chest pain that gets worse with a deep breath, coughing, or chest movement; or coughing up blood. Sometimes, small pulmonary emboli can occur over time. These emboli may cause a more gradual onset of symptoms. Other less-specific things might happen, including:
- Rapid breathing
- Anxiety or feeling of dread
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Increased heart rate
Here is more information from the NIH on how doctors diagnose pulmonary embolism. Just remember, prevention of clots in the legs is the best strategy, and next best is treatment of small clots so they never get big enough to go to the lungs.
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