Coping With Pulmonary Embolism

In This Article

If you have been diagnosed with a pulmonary embolus, 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.

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.

If you are hospitalized, in addition to taking the anticoagulant medications (blood thinners) that are almost always required in treating a pulmonary embolus, you may require oxygen therapy, intravenous fluids, and pain medication for a day or two. However, if these additional measures are needed, they are usually quite temporary.

Most doctors encourage ambulation as early as possible after anticoagulant drugs have been started because exercise helps to prevent further blood clotting.

So 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.

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.

  • Take your meds: It is critical that you take your anticoagulation medication as scheduled. If you think you may be having adverse effects from your drug, call your doctor immediately. This is the medication that is allowing your pulmonary embolus to resolve and is preventing a new one from occurring. If a particular drug is causing a problem there are other alternatives—but stopping your medication altogether is NOT one of them.
  • Keep moving: Your doctor should give you specific instructions about how often, and how much, you should ambulate during your first few days at home. And after the first few days, the more you can be up and around the better.

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 embolus feel like it struck them out of the blue. And in most people, it does: one minute you feel fine; the next you may be gasping for breath and having chest pain.

However, when a doctor makes a diagnosis of pulmonary embolism, in most cases he/she will not be all that surprised that it has occurred. This 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.

So an important part of recovering from a pulmonary embolus is to identify any of the risk factors that may have produced the problem in your own case, and then taking whatever steps are necessary to get rid of, or avoid, those risk factors.

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
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Venous Thromboembolism

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Pulmonary Embolism: Prevention

  3. Clot Care. ClotCare Online Resource 

  4. National Blood Clot Alliance. Stop the Clot

Additional Reading
  • Jiménez D, de Miguel-Díez J, Guijarro R, et al. Trends in the Management and Outcomes of Acute Pulmonary Embolism: Analysis From the RIETE Registry. J Am Coll Cardiol 2016; 67:162. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2015.10.060
  • Kearon C, Akl EA, Comerota AJ, et al. Antithrombotic Therapy For Vte Disease: Antithrombotic Therapy and Prevention of Thrombosis, 9th ed: American College of Chest Physicians Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines. Chest 2012; 141:e419S. DOI: 10.1378/chest.11-2301
  • Kovacs MJ, Hawel JD, Rekman JF, Lazo-Langner A. Ambulatory Management Of Pulmonary Embolism: A Pragmatic Evaluation. J Thromb Haemost 2010; 8:2406. DOI: 10.1111/j.1538-7836.2010.03981.x
  • Stein PD, Matta F, Hughes PG, et al. Home Treatment of Pulmonary Embolism in the Era of Novel Oral Anticoagulants. Am J Med 2016; 129:974. DOI: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2016.03.035