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Thromboembolism is a condition where a blood clot forms in one area of the body, then travels to another area such as the lungs, and blocks a blood vessel there. It is actually a combination of two separate conditions, deep vein thrombosis and embolism. Symptoms vary from patient to patient, and depend on where the blockage occurs. Thromboembolism can a minor problem, or it can be life threatening without prompt treatment.
Deep vein thrombosis is when a blood clot, also known as a thrombus, forms in one of the veins deep within the body, usually in the legs or pelvis. This blood clot blocks the flow of blood traveling through the blood vessel, causing pressure to build up. Many factors can cause the formation of these clots, including damaged blood vessels, circulation problems, or extended periods of time with little to no activity. Examples include illness and travel; in fact this condition is sometimes called traveler’s thrombosis due to the extended periods of time sitting still that are associated with many modes of travel.
In thromboembolism, all or part of the clot can break loose, traveling through the bloodstream until it eventually gets stuck in a blood vessel that is too narrow for it to pass through. This blockage is called an embolism, and when it is caused by a traveling thrombus it is called thromboembolism. The blockage interferes with the blood supply to the area, and can cause permanent damage. Thromboembolism can occur in many areas of the body, when it occurs in a blood vessel near the heart or lungs it can be life threatening.
The symptoms of thromboembolism vary in severity, and depend on what area is involved. Some symptoms include redness, swelling, and soreness in the area. More severe symptoms, such as those that might occur when the lungs are affected, include difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, fainting, and even death. If this condition is suspected, the patient should be examined by a doctor immediately.
There are a range of treatment options for thromboembolism. The main treatment is the use of medications that dissolve or reduce the clot, and also thin the blood, allowing it to flow through the blood vessels more easily. Examples of these medications include heparin and coumadin, which also have an anticoagulant effect, meaning they prevent the blood from clotting again. For some patients, surgery is needed to remove the clot, and in some cases tiny filters are placed in the blood vessels near the heart to prevent clots from reaching the heart and lungs.