Coping With Pulmonary Embolism

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If you have been diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism, you have already been through quite a lot. You have likely experienced some disturbing (possibly life-threatening) symptoms; you have probably been rushed through diagnostic testing; and, once the diagnosis was made, you were probably immediately placed on therapy.

Pulmonary Embolus Common Symptoms

Now that your condition has been stabilized, it is time for you take stock of what has happened, why it might have happened, what you can do to help yourself recover fully, and what you should do to prevent another pulmonary embolus.

The Road to Recovery

Recovering from a pulmonary embolus will take some work, both on your doctor’s part and on yours.

The First Few Days

Most people who have a pulmonary embolus are hospitalized for at least a few days, but experts now believe that some people, if their clinical condition is stable enough, can be treated at home.

Guidelines published by the American Society of Hematology in 2020 conditionally recommend home treatment over hospitalization for people with uncomplicated pulmonary embolism.

People in the hospital with pulmonary embolism are almost always given anticoagulant medications (blood thinners) first to treat the condition. They may also require oxygen therapy, intravenous fluids, and pain medication for a day or two until the condition is stabilized.

As soon as you are able to get up and walk without excessive dyspnea (shortness of breath) or pain, it is important to do so. Moving around as early as possible after anticoagulant drugs have been started can help to prevent further blood clotting.

When your blood oxygen levels are adequate and your symptoms are under control, it will be time to go home.

After the Acute Illness

Once you are home, it is important for you to do what’s needed to continue your recovery. This means, in addition to taking care of yourself by eating regularly and getting plenty of sleep, you have to take your medications just as prescribed and walk as much as you can.

The primary things you need to focus on include:

  • Sticking to your medication schedule. It is critical that you take your anticoagulation medication and other prescribed treatments as scheduled. If you think you may be having adverse effects from your drug, call your doctor immediately. These medications are directly responsible for preventing another pulmonary embolism event. If you are experiencing concerning side effects you should contact your doctor right away - do not stop taking the medication unless you are specifically instructed to do so.
  • Staying active: Your doctor should give you specific instructions about how often, and how much, you should move around during your first few days at home. And after the first few days, the more you can be up and around the better. This can help prevent additional clotting.

Your doctor may add additional measures to help you recover or prevent further problems. These may include, for instance, home oxygen therapy or prescription compression stockings to help prevent deep vein thrombosis.

Preventing Future Problems

Most people who have a pulmonary embolism feel like it struck them out of the blue - and that is true for many people. One minute you feel fine; the next you may be gasping for breath and having chest pain.

The doctor is ordinarily less surprised upon making a diagnosis of pulmonary embolism. In most cases, people with pulmonary embolism have risk factors his is because most of the time people who have a pulmonary embolus turn out to have one or more of the risk factors that have made this event much more likely.

Having certain conditions can make you more likely to develop pulmonary embolism. Managing these risk factors and conditions is an important part of managing the condition. Diseases and conditions that can increase your risk include:

  • Heart disease
  • Previous surgery
  • Certain cancers
  • Blood disorders that affect clotting
  • COVID-19
  • Prolonged immobility, such as bed rest

Some of these risk factors require lifestyle changes; others may require taking lifelong anticoagulant therapy. Your doctor will probably have an excellent idea of which risk factors may have contributed to your pulmonary embolus and will be able to give you specific advice on preventing future events.

Other Support

While you may feel alone in your efforts to recover from a pulmonary embolus, there are actually many thousands of people each year who go through this experience. Your hospital may be able to refer you to local support groups of people who have had this problem. There are also useful online support groups for people coping with a pulmonary embolus or deep vein thrombosis. Two of the better known are Clotcare and Stop the Clot.

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Article Sources
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  1. Ortel TL, Neumann I, Ageno W, et al. American Society of Hematology 2020 guidelines for management of venous thromboembolism: treatment of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Blood Adv. 2020 Oct 13;4(19):4693-4738. doi: 10.1182/bloodadvances.2020001830.

  2. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Venous Thromboembolism

  3. Mayo Clinic. Pulmonary Embolism. Last reviewed June 13, 2020.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Pulmonary Embolism: Prevention

  5. Clot Care. ClotCare Online Resource 

  6. National Blood Clot Alliance. Stop the Clot

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