November 18, 2023

How Long Before a Pulmonary Embolism Kills You?

The time it takes for a blood clot to kill you depends on the size of the clot, where in the body it lodges and other patient-specific factors. A large clot that lodges in one of the main arteries that carry blood out of the heart, for example, can block the flow and cause sudden death.

A large blood clot in the lungs, or pulmonary embolism (PE), can also cause heart failure by restricting blood flow to the lungs and heart. The symptoms vary depending on the type and size of clot, and can include difficulty breathing, bluish color of the skin, chest pain, anxiety, restlessness, coughing up blood, and feeling like your heart is skipping beats or beating too hard and fast.

People who have had PE in the past are at increased risk for having another, especially if they had certain medical conditions, such as cancer or a heart condition, or genetic predispositions to form blood clots. The risk also increases with age and if you have had other family members who have had PE.

The best way to prevent a PE is to take medicines that thin the blood and make it less likely to form clots, such as warfarin or heparin. Talk to your health care provider about the right treatment for you. During hospital stays, ask your healthcare provider to help prevent blood clots from forming in your deep veins by giving you compression stockings or using a pneumatic compression device during your stay.


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