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What Is Bilateral Pulmonary Embolism?

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  • Written By: Autumn Rivers
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 21 March 2014
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Bilateral pulmonary embolism is a blockage in at least one artery in both lungs, usually as the result of a blood clot. Most people who suffer from a pulmonary embolism develop it in both lungs, making the bilateral variety the most common. Typical symptoms include shortness of breath, a cough that brings up bloody discharge, and sudden chest pain. This condition can be fatal but the prognosis is good for patients who get immediate medical treatment, such as anti-clotting medication. Preventing blood clots from forming — by not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding being still for long periods of time — can reduce the risk of bilateral pulmonary embolism.

One of the most common symptoms of bilateral pulmonary embolism is shortness of breath that occurs suddenly, even when the patient is sitting down. Chest pain is another common sign and, while it often becomes worse during exertion, it is still present when the patient is at rest. Some patients also develop a cough that brings up bloody sputum, which is sometimes accompanied by wheezing, clammy skin or excessive sweat. The blood clot most often comes from the legs, so this area of the body may swell up and the pulse frequently becomes weak. Patients are advised to seek immediate medical treatment, because this condition can result in death when it is not treated.

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The typical treatment for bilateral pulmonary embolism is medication, with anticoagulants being the most popular option. Warfarin and heparin are the two most common types of anticoagulants, but they may cause excessive bruising and bleeding gums while they take effect. Clot dissolvers are another option and can be given when the clot needs to be dissolved immediately to prevent death, but this medication results in serious bleeding. Some doctors opt to surgically remove particularly large clots or place a filter in the inferior vena cava to stop clots from being transported from the legs to the lungs.

People who are perfectly healthy can experience bilateral pulmonary embolism, but there are risk factors that make some people more likely than others to suffer from this condition. For example, those on bed rest or on long trips are at risk of having their blood flow slow down enough to allow clots, which is why staying immobile for several hours is not advised. Those who smoke, are overweight or are taking estrogen through birth control pills or hormone therapy are also at higher risk for bilateral pulmonary embolism. On the other hand, some people cannot help being in the high-risk category for this condition, because older people and those with a family history of blood clots are more likely than average to get it. Additionally, both surgery and medical conditions, such as cancer, pregnancy and heart disease, can increase the chances of a person suffering from bilateral pulmonary embolism.

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