Pulmonary Embolism Treatments

3 Primary Methods for Treating a Pulmonary Embolism

Conditions of the cardiovascular system can be overwhelming when you don’t know what to expect or the potential outcomes, especially when faced with how to treat pulmonary embolism. Sadly, an estimated one in three patients die from these blockages in the pulmonary arteries of the lungs when they remain undiagnosed or untreated. Luckily, advances in both medical technology and research continue to have a positive impact on the statistics surrounding a pulmonary embolism prognosis.

Pulmonary Embolism Treatments


Pulmonary embolism medications are the first line of treatment when faced with this diagnosis. Medications are broken down into two main categories depending on the severity of the blockage. The first group of medicines are anticoagulants, commonly referred to as blood thinners. These medicines work to thin the blood and prevent other blood clots from forming while the body is allowed to break down the larger existing clot. Traditionally, a mix of injected heparin is overlapped with an oral dose of warfarin for best results. However, new research continues to develop medications that allow for similar results with just a single oral medication, helping reduce the impact of negative side effects.

The second category of medications for treating a pulmonary embolism are thrombolytics. This class of medications works by dissolving and busting through formed clots. Unfortunately, these medications have potentially severe side effects and dramatically increase the risks of severe bleeding even more than traditional blood thinners. As such, they are typically reserved for emergency situations only.

Vena Cava Filter Placement

Not all patients can take medications to help prevent or break down blood clots. In these cases a filter may be used to stop blood clots before they can enter the lungs. A filter may also be used when medications are not acting fast enough to prevent deadly clots from forming. In this procedure, a catheter is inserted through the neck and into the inferior vena cava. This is a primary vein that is responsible for transporting blood back to the heart to be reoxygenated by the lungs. Once in place, this filter helps catch blood clots before they can travel to the smaller blood vessels of the lungs and cause serious problems. In some cases, these filters can later be removed once the blood clots stop forming.

Removal of the Clot

When clots grow too large to be treated with blood thinners or clot dissolving medications alone, your doctor may recommend surgically removing the clot through an embolectomy. This is common when the lung clot grows large enough to cause necrosis or become life threatening. In this procedure, the surgeon will first locate where the clot has settled. This is done either through x-rays and injected radiopaque dye or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The surgeon will then use this information to insert a thin catheter tube and guide it through the affected blood vessel. The catheter is pushed just passed the embolism, allowing a small balloon to be inflated on the opposite side. The catheter is then carefully removed, taking the blood clot along with it.

Your pulmonary embolism treatment duration will vary based on the severity of your unique case. Discuss your treatment plan and options with your medical provider for more information on pulmonary embolism treatment guidelines and how you can remain an active part of your medical care.