Pulmonary embolism is treatable – doctor

2013-05-23 08:43

The condition that killed famous television and radio presenter Vuyo Mbuli can be treated.

Pulmonary embolism is a condition that occurs when a “blood clot moves from somewhere in the body, usually from the legs, to the lungs,” says Dr Ariel Eyal from the Netcare Waterfall Hospital in Midrand, Johannesburg.

Eyal says once the clot has moved up into the lungs, it disrupts a person’s breathing mechanism.

He says a person can breathe but the oxygen is unable enter the bloodstream due to the clot, and because of this the lungs cannot withstand the pressure the clot has caused.

Early signs of pulmonary embolism are sharp pains in the legs.

In this case, a CT or nuclear scan is taken to look for clots in the calves and if any are detected, the doctor will prescribe blood thinning medication.

“The medication will have to be taken for a period of six months,” said Eyal.

Risk factors which could contribute to pulmonary embolisms developing include smoking, immobility during long trips on the plane, orthopedic surgery and the use of oral contraceptives.

“People can take aspirin or blood thinning medication before travelling for long distances that are over six hours or take breaks for a walk around the car when driving for long periods,” he adds.

Eyal says pulmonary embolism can also be caused by genetic factors.

Factor v Leiden is the most common inherited blood clotting disorder.

“The best way to decrease the chance of getting pulmonary embolism, if there is chance that it exists in your family, is to avoid all the risk factors mentioned,” he says.

He says the symptoms, although they could be associated with other ailments, are chest pains and shortness of breath.

Eyal reckons the best way to minimise the risk is by removing the risk factors because it can happen to anyone.

“I have just treated a young lady in her 20s and [have] also treated elderly people” said Eyal.

Mbuli (46) collapsed while watching a rugby match between the Cheetahs and the Reds at the Free State Stadium on May 19.

In Mbuli’s case, Eyal says, it would be hard to know if it was possible to stop the pulmonary embolism because “it is unknown if inherent or avoidable risk factors” caused his attack.

Eyal’s advice is to consult a doctor as soon as you experience any of the mentioned symptoms.

Tennis world champion Serena Williams has also suffered a pulmonary embolism when a blood clot the size of a grapefruit developed in her body and moved up into her lungs in February 2011.

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