Pulmonary Embolism Recovery: An Introduction
Pulmonary embolism recovery experiences vary greatly from patient to patient. The experience depends largely on how long the patient had the blood clots before they were diagnosed and treated and how severe the pulmonary embolism or embolisms were. For many patients recovery will take a number of months. A few patients will be lucky enough to have a short recovery of a few days. On the other end of the spectrum there are patients who will be in recovery for a number of years. Because of the large variation in recovery times and experiences, little information is available to a pulmonary embolism survivor.
General Information About Recovery
Diagnosis And Immediate Care
Once the patient is in the hospital, he or she will need to be stabilized. Once the medical team is sure that the patient is stable, testing can begin. Routine tests may include a chest X-ray, EKG, spiral CT with contrast dye, blood oxygen levels, and blood work. Once the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism is given, the patient will typically be placed on either a heparin IV drip or low molecular weight heparin injections and oxygen. The patient will also be placed on bed rest. If the patient is unstable due to a large clot in the lungs, a special procedure may be done to apply clot busting medications directly to the clot by passing equipment up through a vein in the leg or arm.
The First Few Days After Diagnosis
An echocardiogram is often done to review heart function and determine if there is any heart damage from the blood clots. Also, an ultrasound will likely be done on the legs to determine if there are any clots that may migrate into the lungs and cause a new pulmonary ebolism. These tests will help to determine when the patient is safe enough to go off of bed rest.
After The Tests Come Back
Most patients will be kept on bed rest until tests indicate that no further clots will move into the lungs, the heart is healthy enough to move around, and vital signs are stable. Once this point is reached, the patient can speak with the medical team about gaining some additional freedom. Patients can ask about toileting, dressing, and walking around the hospital unit. Doctors may vary the amount of activity based on the patient's health and the amount of damage that was done by the blood clots. Movement can be a great way to begin to increase endurance. It may also help to prevent the formation of additional clots. Keep in mind that whatever activity is done, it often must be performed while hooked up to oxygen, and IV line, and an EKG.
Physical and mental health symptoms and side effects are very common after a pulmonary embolism. Survivors should keep doctor and pharmacy numbers handy. Changes in medications, switching warfarin brands, or adding a psychological medication can sometimes be helpful. Counseling may also help the survivor deal with recovery stress. If at any point the symptoms become severe or the patient suspects that there may be a new or worsening blood clot, he or she should call his or her doctor and then go to the emergency room immediately.
Recovery Expectations And Time
Pulmonary embolism survivors will have very different recovery experiences based on the amount of damage that was done by the clots. Some patients have a small clot and were diagnosed immediately while others had multiple, large clots that were not diagnosed until the patient collapsed. Survivors need to know that recovery is very individual.
The best advice for the recovery period is to have patience and to stay in communication with the medical team regarding symptoms and concerns. Symptoms will often come and go throughout recovery. If symptoms reappear or are bothersome, the primary care physician should be notified. The patient may also wish to consider going to the emergency room to ensure that no new clots have appeared.
Recovery times vary greatly. On HubPages, an informal study notes that while only 9% of patients will feel fully recovered in less than a month, 68% will feel recovered by two years. Illness or stress during recovery can set back recovery by days to months depending on the severity of the situation. A simple cold will hit someone in recovery much harder than a typical person. Allergies or changes in the weather can also impact recovery. Cold dry air or damp air seem to cause symptom flares in some individuals.
As mental health can be severely impacted by a pulmonary embolism, patients should speak with their primary care physician about any anxiety or depression problems. Trying to participate in day to day activities can be very stressful for someone in recovery. Also, many survivors are faced with the challenge of understanding why he or she survived a life threatening condition. Panic attacks and post traumatic stress syndrome may also be a problem. Counseling and or medication are reported by many survivors to be very helpful in the recovery period.