Thumbnail image of: Circulatory System: Illustration

Pulmonary Embolism Discharge Information

What is a pulmonary embolism?

A pulmonary embolism happens when an artery in one of your lungs becomes blocked. In most cases, the blockage is caused by one or more blood clots that travel to your lungs from another part of your body. A blood clot that travels through the blood vessels is called an embolus.

Blood clots most often form in leg veins, but can also start in the arm veins or in the right side of the heart. You are at a higher risk for forming a blood clot if:

  • You must lie or sit still for a long time when recuperating from an illness or injury or when taking a long plane flight or car ride
  • You have recently had surgery
  • You have inherited a disorder that makes your blood clot more easily than normal
  • You take a medicine that increases the tendency for blood to clot, such as birth control pills

A pulmonary embolism can be a life-threatening problem.

How can I take care of myself when I go home?

How long it takes to get better depends on your treatment, how well you recover, your overall health, and any complications you may have.

Most people need to take blood thinners for 3 to 6 months after they leave the hospital. If you have a very high risk of getting more clots, you may need to take blood thinners for the rest of your life.

Management

  • Your provider will give you a list of your medicines when you leave the hospital.
    • Know your medicines. Know what they look like, how much you should take each time, how often you should take them, and why you take each one.
    • Take your medicines exactly as your provider tells you to.
    • Carry a list of your medicines in your wallet or purse. Include any nonprescription medicines and supplements on the list.
    • Talk to your provider before you use any other medicines, including nonprescription medicines. Many medicines, including some antibiotics, can interfere with the effects of blood thinners.
    • If you take blood thinners, do not take aspirin unless it is prescribed by your provider.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicines to:
    • Treat pain
    • Prevent clots from getting bigger and stop more blood clots from forming
    • Dissolve or break down blood clots
  • If you have had surgery, to care for your incision:
    • Keep your incision clean.
    • If you are told to change your dressing on your incision, wash your hands before changing the dressing and after disposing of the dressing.
  • You may want to wear a medical alert bracelet that shows you take a blood thinner medicine.

Appointments

  • Follow your provider’s instructions for follow-up appointments.
  • Keep appointments for any routine testing you may need. If you take a blood thinner, you will need regular blood tests to check that the medicine is working
  • Talk with your provider about any questions or fears you have.

Diet, Exercise, and Other Lifestyle Changes

  • Follow the treatment plan your healthcare provider prescribes.
  • Get plenty of rest while you’re recovering. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if there are any foods or medicines you should avoid.
  • Drink enough fluids to keep your urine light yellow in color, unless you are told to limit fluids.
  • Lose weight if you need to and keep a healthy weight.
  • Exercise as your provider recommends.
    • Avoid sitting for long periods.
    • When you are traveling, move your feet and legs often.
    • Avoid crossing your legs and ankles when you sit.
    • Keep your legs raised when you are in bed or sitting down. Leg elevation promotes the return of blood through the leg veins.
  • Follow activity restrictions, such as not driving or operating machinery, as recommended by your healthcare provider or pharmacist, especially if you are taking pain medicines.
  • Ask your provider about support stockings you can wear to help prevent clots. Make sure you know how to wear them correctly.
  • Avoid wearing anything on your legs that blocks the return of blood from the feet to the heart, such as socks or hose with a tight elastic band at the top.
  • If you are currently being treated for DVT, do not massage your legs. Massage could cause the clot to break loose.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking increases the risk for blood clots.
  • Blood thinners will make you bleed more than usual. To help prevent cuts:
    • Wear rubber gloves or garden gloves for household and outdoor work.
    • Don’t walk barefoot.
  • Find ways to make your life less stressful.

Call emergency medical services or 911 if you have new or worsening:

  • Chest pain or pressure, squeezing, or fullness in the center of your chest that lasts more than few minutes, or goes away and comes back (may feel like indigestion or heartburn)
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders, or in your back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Trouble breathing
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat for no known reason
  • If your provider has prescribed nitroglycerin for angina, pain that does not go away after taking your nitroglycerin as directed
  • Along with the previous symptoms, feeling very tired, faint, or sick to your stomach
  • Coughing up blood

If you have any of these symptoms, do not drive yourself.

Call your healthcare provider if you have new or worsening:

  • Pain, redness, or swelling in your legs or arms
  • Unusual bruising
  • Cuts that won’t stop bleeding
  • Blood in your bowel movements
  • Signs of infection around your surgical wound if you had surgery. These include:
    • The area around your wound is more red or painful
    • Your wound area is very warm to touch
    • You have blood, pus, or other fluid coming from the wound area
    • You have a fever higher than 101.5° F (38.6° C)
    • You have chills or muscle aches

Ask your healthcare provider about any medicine, treatment, or information that you do not understand.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-07-30
Last reviewed: 2014-07-31
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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