What Is Pulmonary Embolism: How Do Your Lungs Work?

3D illustration of lungs

Story at-a-glance -

  • In a healthy person, the left pulmonary artery functions properly and without issue. However, certain people may develop a blockage in this important pathway. When this occurs, pulmonary embolism develops
  • Once an embolus blocks the artery, it can be a potentially fatal situation. You may develop chest pains, short breaths, coughing and excessive sweating. If you suddenly experience any of these symptoms, visit a doctor immediately

Your lungs are one of the most important organs in your body because they are responsible for bringing oxygen into your system. But how do they work? We breathe in and out every day, but most never pay attention to the wonder of how lungs give life to people.

As you inhale, air travels down your pharynx (the back of the throat) and into the windpipe. The air travels down into the bronchial tubes that split into the bronchi and bronchioles in your left and right lung. At the very end of the bronchioles are the alveoli, which are the air sacs responsible for absorbing oxygen from the air.1

Once the oxygen enters the sacs, it is pumped into the bloodstream and carried back into the heart, where it is distributed to the rest of your body for use. Once cells use the oxygen, it comes back as carbon dioxide and is delivered back into the lungs and exhaled as waste; then the entire process repeats.2

The Left Pulmonary Artery Plays an Important Role in Proper Oxygen Transfer

To facilitate proper oxygen transfer, blood from the lungs goes to the heart and is pumped throughout your entire body. Your left pulmonary, which is responsible for diverting oxygen-depleted blood back into the lungs, is an important pathway located below the bottom of the heart’s right ventricle. It measures 1.2 inches wide and 2 inches long. As the blood exits the lungs, it becomes filled with oxygen again to be used by your body.3

If a Blockage Occurs in Your Pulmonary Artery, It Can Cause Symptoms

In a healthy person, the left pulmonary artery functions properly and without issue. However, certain people may develop a blockage in this important pathway. When this occurs, pulmonary embolism develops.4 In the case of this disease, the blockage (or embolus) is usually because of a blood clot. Other causes include:5

Fat from the bone marrow of a broken large bone

An air bubble

A small piece of a cancerous tumor

Foreign material from an impure injection

In women, amniotic fluid from pregnancy or childbirth

Once an embolus blocks the artery, it can be a potentially fatal situation. You may develop chest pains, short breaths, coughing and excessive sweating. If you suddenly experience any of these symptoms, visit a doctor immediately.6 The lack of blood in your lungs can lead to pulmonary infarction, which is the death of lung tissue.7

Treating and Preventing Pulmonary Embolism

When it comes to treating pulmonary embolism, immediate attention is required to help prevent complications, and even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sudden death can occur in 25 percent of people who develop pulmonary embolism, while 10 to 30 percent of diagnosed patients will die after a month of detection.8

Depending on the severity of your condition, you may be given an anticoagulant to help clots from forming easily. Take note, however, that these medicines may produce undesirable side effects. If your doctor prescribes you these drugs, thoroughly discuss their possible consequences so you know what to watch out for.9 If you have a high-risk situation, your doctor may suggest removing the clot via a catheter or a vein filter.10

Home remedies for pulmonary embolism focus on preventing another clot from happening. Activities such as exercise, for example, can help keep blood flowing smoothly. Compression stockings may also help promote blood flow by maintaining a gentle pressure on your legs. Quitting smoking lowers your risk because it is a factor in the development of deep vein thrombosis. All in all, pulmonary embolism may be prevented as long as healthy lifestyle choices are implemented.11

MORE ABOUT PULMONARY EMBOLISM

Pulmonary Embolism: Introduction

What Is Pulmonary Embolism?

Pulmonary Embolism Symptoms

Pulmonary Embolism Causes

Pulmonary Embolism Types

Pulmonary Embolism Treatment

Pulmonary Embolism Prevention

Pulmonary Embolism FAQ


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