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 a recurrent pulmonary embolism.

The Road to Recovery

Recovering from pulmonary embolism will take some work, both on your healthcare provider’s part and on yours.

The First Few Days

Most people who experience pulmonary embolism 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.

At-home recovery tips after a pulmonary embolism.
Laura Porter / Verywell 

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 healthcare provider immediately. These medications are directly responsible for preventing another pulmonary embolism event. If you are experiencing concerning side effects, you should contact your healthcare provider right away. Do not stop taking the medication unless you are specifically instructed to do so.
  • Staying active: Your healthcare provider 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 healthcare provider 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 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 healthcare provider is ordinarily less surprised upon making a diagnosis of pulmonary embolism. In most cases, people with pulmonary embolism have risk factors.

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

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

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

Other Support

While you may feel alone in your efforts to manage pulmonary embolism, 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 pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis. Two of the better known are Clotcare and Stop the Clot.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to recover from pulmonary embolism?

    Your recovery will come in stages. Once you start anticoagulants, which prevent future blood clots, you should begin to feel better within a few days. A full recovery, though, usually takes several weeks to months as your body absorbs the blood clot. Up to 4% of those who suffer a pulmonary embolism have long-term damage to the lungs, which requires ongoing treatment.

  • How long should you wait before returning to work after a pulmonary embolism?

    Depending on your career, you may be able to return to work within a few weeks. However, if you are prescribed blood thinners, you need to avoid getting hurt, so you may not be able to return to a job in which there is a significant risk of being injured.

8 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. 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. Cleveland Clinic. Pulmonary embolism: Who is at risk.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Pulmonary embolism: Prevention

  5. ClotCare. ClotCare online resource 

  6. National Blood Clot Alliance. Stop the clot

  7. Waldron B, Moll S. A patient’s guide to recovery after deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. Circulation. 2014;129(17). doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.113.006285

  8. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Blood thinner pills: Your guide to using them safely.

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

  • 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

By Richard N. Fogoros, MD
Richard N. Fogoros, MD, is a retired professor of medicine and board-certified in internal medicine, clinical cardiology, and clinical electrophysiology.