Pulmonary Embolism: Care Instructions

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Inside view of chest, showing lungs, blood vessels in lungs, and heart.

Overview

Pulmonary embolism is the sudden blockage of an artery in the lung. Blood clots in the deep veins of the leg or pelvis (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT) are the most common cause. These blood clots can travel to the lungs.

Pulmonary embolism can be very serious. Because you have had one pulmonary embolism, you are at greater risk for having another one. But you can take steps to prevent another pulmonary embolism.

You will probably take a prescription blood-thinning medicine to prevent blood clots. A blood thinner can stop a blood clot from growing larger and prevent new clots from forming.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • If you are taking a blood thinner, be sure you get instructions about how to take your medicine safely. Blood thinners can cause serious bleeding problems.
  • Try to walk several times a day. Walking helps keep blood moving in your legs. Before doing other types of exercise, ask your doctor what type and level of exercise is safe for you.
  • Take steps to help prevent blood clots in your legs. For example:
    • Exercise your lower leg muscles if you sit for long periods of time. Pump your feet up and down by pulling your toes up toward your knees then pointing them down. Repeat.
    • After an illness or surgery, try to get up and out of bed often. If you can't get out of bed, flex your feet every hour to keep the blood moving through your legs.
    • Take plenty of breaks when you travel. On long car trips, stop the car and walk around every hour or so. On the bus, plane, or train, get out of your seat and walk up and down the aisle every hour, if you can.
    • Wear compression stockings if your doctor recommends them.
    • Check with your doctor about whether you should use hormonal forms of birth control or hormone therapy. These may increase your risk of blood clots.
  • Have a healthy lifestyle. This includes being active, staying at a healthy weight, and not smoking.
  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19, the flu, and pneumonia.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have shortness of breath.
  • You have chest pain.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You cough up blood.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worsening pain or swelling in your leg.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.