Pulmonary Embolism Treatment
A person's plan to treat pulmonary embolism will depend on factors such as the severity of symptoms and if other medical conditions are present. Treatment may include medications (such as warfarin or heparin), emergency treatment (such as surgical removal of the blood clot), vena cava filters, or other options.
The primary goals of treatment for pulmonary embolism are to:
- Keep the blood clot or clots that are lodged in the lungs from getting bigger
- Stop the development of new clots.
Options can include:
- Emergency treatment to dissolve a clot
- Other methods.
Pulmonary embolism treatment will vary, depending on the severity of the person's symptoms. Severe cases need to be treated immediately, while mild symptoms can be treated with outpatient care.
Using Medications to Treat Pulmonary Embolism
Two types of medications are used when treating pulmonary embolism:
- Thrombin inhibitors.
Anticoagulants, also known as blood thinners, decrease the blood's ability to clot. These drugs are used to stop clots from getting bigger and to prevent blood clots from forming. However, they do not break up blood clots that have already formed. Anticoagulants can be taken:
- As a pill (warfarin)
- As an injection or shot (heparin)
- Intravenously, or through an IV (heparin).
Heparin and warfarin (Coumadin®, Jantoven®) may be given at the same time. Heparin will act quickly, while warfarin will take two to three days before starts working. Once the warfarin is working, the heparin will be stopped.
Pregnant women cannot take warfarin, so they will be treated only with heparin.
Treatment with anticoagulants usually lasts for three to six months. However, the following situations may change the length of treatment:
- If a blood clot occurred after a short-term risk like surgery, treatment may be shorter
- If you have had clots before, longer treatment will be needed
- If you are undergoing treatment for another illness (like cancer), pulmonary embolism treatment will be needed as long as those risk factors are present.
The most common side effect of anticoagulants is bleeding. You should call your doctor immediately if you are taking warfarin or heparin and have easy bruising or bleeding. Warfarin also interacts with many other medications. Therefore, you should tell your doctor all of the medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
Thrombin inhibitors are new medications that interfere with the clotting process. These drugs are used to treat some types of clots and for patients who cannot take heparin.