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Pulmonary Embolism: Treatment

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This information was reviewed and approved by Chhaya Patel, MD (3/1/2021).

A pulmonary embolism involves a blood clot in the artery of the lung.

It can cause significant breathing difficulties, lower the oxygen level in the lungs, and increase blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries. Low oxygen can damage the lungs and other organs. Increased blood pressure in the lungs can make the right side of the heart work harder which can lead to heart failure.

Treatment of pulmonary embolism (PE) symptoms is usually done in the hospital. The goals of treating a non-life-threatening PE is to stop the blood clot from growing, remove or destroy the blood clot, and prevent new clots from developing.  


Medications are primarily used to treat PE.

Anticoagulants or blood thinners help prevent further clotting. They don’t actually thin the blood, but they reduce the blood’s ability to clot, prevent the clot from getting bigger, and reduces the risk of other clots from forming.

Common anticoagulants include:

  1. Oral medications: Apixaban, Dabigatran, Edoxaban, Rivaroxaban, Warfarin

  2. IV medications: Fondaparinux, Low molecular weight heparin, Unfractionated heparin

  3. Thrombolytics help break up the clots, but they have a higher risk of causing bleeding than the anticoagulants and are reserved for severe cases.

Graduated compression stockings may also be used in treating PE. They keep the blood from pooling and clotting because they are tight at the ankle and become looser as they go up the leg. 

Life-Threatening Pulmonary Embolism

Treating a life-threatening PE may require a treatment or procedure to break up the clot. This can include surgery to remove the blood clot or placing a filter inside the vena cava vein to trap the clot before it enters the lung. Surgery is rarely needed to treat PE.

It’s important that you follow your doctor’s orders for treatment. Remember to ask questions and report any problems you are having right away.

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