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Pulmonary Embolism Treatment

A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in your lungs. It can cause pain and loss of oxygen that can be dangerous, leading to life-threatening conditions. 

Most pulmonary embolisms originate as a clot in your legs that travels to your lungs. These can be fatal or cause significant long-term strain on the heart and lungs. Pulmonary embolisms need urgent evaluation and treatment.

Pulmonary Embolism Treatment: Why Choose Barnes-Jewish Hospital?

The Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center offers advanced care for dangerous pulmonary embolisms (PE). From emergency clot removal to long-term care, we offer:

  • Rapid treatment for urgent pulmonary embolisms: A submassive pulmonary embolism is a dangerous, sudden clot that blocks the pulmonary arteries in your chest. It can dramatically limit blood flow to your lungs. We provide crucial early evaluation and treatment to save lives.
  • Individualized care: We assess your complete health to recommend the right treatment for you. Our team works together to plan your care.
  • Minimally invasive options: Pulmonary embolism treatment has evolved in recent years, and we use the latest approaches. Often, we can treat a PE without open-heart surgery and without large doses of clot-busting medication. Instead, we can eliminate the embolism using only small punctures in a blood vessel.

Emergency Care for Pulmonary Embolism 

A pulmonary embolism requires urgent care. In an emergency, we activate our pulmonary embolism response team (PERT). This expert team leaps into action to treat a submassive pulmonary embolism early.

Signs of a submassive pulmonary embolism include sudden-onset shortness of breath and chest pain. This type of PE can cause heart failure and can be fatal. If you have pulmonary embolism symptoms, seek emergency care right away.

Minimally Invasive Pulmonary Embolism Treatment

We typically use minimally invasive procedures to eliminate a PE. Instead of open surgery that requires a large incision, we can access the clot through your blood vessels, with only a needle poke in the groin or neck.

When possible, we avoid high doses of clot-busting medications. These drugs can increase the risk of bleeding in the brain or other parts of the body.

Your pulmonary embolism treatment options may include:

  • Clot retrieval: We carefully direct a catheter into the pulmonary artery and suction out the entire clot. We can also use the catheter to deliver clot-busting medication directly to the blood clot.
  • Vein filter: Most PEs result from deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in the leg. DVT clots travel from your legs to your heart through a vein called the vena cava. To prevent clots from reaching your lungs, we may install a blood filter in the vena cava.
  • Open embolectomy: In an emergency, we may perform open surgery to access and remove a clot.
  • ECMO: In rare cases with very severe strain on the heart, cardiac surgeons use special machines to support heart function. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) can save lives. It supports your heart until the clot is removed and your body has recovered from the severe strain from a large PE.

Recovering From Pulmonary Embolism 

After surgery for a PE, your medical team will identify the cause of the embolism. In most cases, a PE results from deep vein thrombosis. Your doctor may prescribe anticoagulant medications to prevent future blood clots.

Depending on the embolism’s effects, you may need cardiac rehab to regain your strength. Your therapist can teach you leg exercises to help prevent clots.

Our Pulmonary Embolism Team

You receive coordinated care for PE, from the pulmonary embolism response team (PERT) and other specialists. Find a doctor.

Your pulmonary embolism team may include:

  • vascular surgeons who perform procedures related to arteries and veins, including open surgeries and minimally invasive catheter-based procedures
  • cardiologists who treat long term effects of strain on the heart
  • cardiac surgeons who perform heart procedures
  • critical care doctors in our specialized cardiac intensive care unit
  • interventional vascular surgeons and interventional radiologists who perform minimally invasive, catheter-based procedures
  • pulmonologists who specialize in conditions of the lung
  • physical therapists who oversee your rehabilitation as you recover 

Pulmonary Embolism Research and Clinical Trials

Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center surgeons participate in clinical trials to assess new treatments for pulmonary embolisms. We are active participants in the Society for Vascular Surgery-sponsored Vascular Registry, which maintains patient records to measure the effectiveness of new treatments. Learn more about our innovation.

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University vascular specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 314-273-7373.