What is Pulmonary Embolism?

Doctor Looking at an X-ray of the Patient's LungsPulmonary embolism is the blockage of an artery in the lung. It is most frequently caused by a blood clot that travels from another part of the body, usually the lower leg, to the lungs where it becomes lodged. Blood clots are not the only thing that can impede blood flow though. Collagen, fat tissue, air bubbles, fat from broken bones and other tissues can get stuck in the arteries as well.

If not diagnosed and treated promptly, a pulmonary embolism can cause death by cutting off the oxygen supply to the lungs. This is the second leading cause of sudden death in the United States. Misdiagnosis of this life-threatening condition may lead to permanent impairment or death. If it can be proven a failure to timely diagnose pulmonary embolism affected your treatment or resulted in death, you may have a malpractice claim against the physician and the emergency room or other medical facility where you or your loved was treated.

Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism

Symptoms of pulmonary embolism include shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, increased respiration rate, chest pain that feels similar to a heart attack, coughing up blood, fever, dizziness, and signs of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), such as unexplained pain in the calf and swelling or edema in the lower leg. Doctors say any time you or a loved one experiences shortness of breath, chest pains and bloody coughs, emergency medical treatment is a must.

What are the Risk Factors for Pulmonary Embolism?

Certain factors increase the likelihood of a pulmonary embolism. These include the following:

  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Oral contraceptive use
  • Hormone therapy
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Recent surgery
  • Cancer

Diagnosing and Treating Pulmonary Embolism

Pulmonary embolism is not easy to detect and can be even more difficult to diagnose when the patient has preexisting heart or lung conditions. There are many options doctors face in dealing with the aforementioned symptoms. When a patient presents with a complaint of breathing problems and rapid heart rate, medical professionals should take a complete medical history to determine risk factors, and should also examine the legs for overt signs of deep vein thrombosis. Even in the absence of apparent DVT symptoms or risk factors, a combination of diagnostic tests should be ordered, including D dimer testing, which is used to detect increased levels of D dimer (a chemical produced by the body in response to blood clots), computed tomography pulmonary angiography (CTPA), MRI, Chest X-Ray, and ultrasound of the leg or other limbs to detect any deep vein thrombosis. This list is not exhaustive and doctors have many more resources at their disposal in diagnosing your pulmonary embolism.

Once DVT or pulmonary embolism is diagnosed, the doctor will usually prescribe anticoagulant drugs, or blood thinners, such as warfarin or heparin, to prevent new clots from forming and, in the most severe cases, thrombolytics to break up any existing clots. Surgery may also be required to remove large clots. When these steps are taken promptly, the survival rate for a pulmonary embolism is in excess of 95 percent.

Medical Malpractice And Common Misdiagnosis Of Pulmonary Embolisms

Because pulmonary embolism causes breathing problems, it is sometimes misdiagnosed as pneumonia, asthma, or bronchitis. It may also be confused with heart attack or hypertension.

Please note, if your doctor failed to properly diagnose a pulmonary embolism, that doesn't necessarily mean you have a medical malpractice claim. Your doctor had to have been grossly negligent in his diagnosis, which is very difficult to prove. 

In order to prove a medical malpractice case you must have a witness, an expert in the medical field or related area, that is willing to testify on your behalf. Without one there is no chance of trying, let alone winning, your case.

Also, it's important to keep in mind, there is a huge misconception regarding the preceived "winning" of a medical malpractice claim. Bear in mind, a physician or surgeon is not going to simply settle in order to keep the case from going to court. Accusations of medical malpractice can ruin a medical care practitioner's reputation and career. 

Any erroneous diagnosis of a pulmonary embolism is dangerous and potentially deadly. If you or someone you care about has been harmed by the failure to diagnose pulmonary embolism or another health condition where timing is crucial, you may be considering a medical malpractice claim against the doctor responsible for your situation. If that is your case you need to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney

Contact us online or call us directly at 888.815.6398. We would be happy to discuss your situation and weigh the pros and cons of your decision. Not every medical mistake requires a legal action, but every legal action requires a competent attorney and a well informed client. And, if for some reason we are unable to take on your case, we always do our best to suggest other attorneys who can assist you.