Pulmonary Embolism Malpractice

Studies have shown that one of the leading causes of preventable deaths during hospitalization is due to a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that becomes lodged in the blood vessels of the lungs. In most cases, a blood clot starts in the large veins of the leg, abdomen, or arms. When the clot becomes dislodged, it travels up into the lungs and either entirely or partially blocks an artery. Once a person gets a blood clot, anything can knock the clot into the blood stream. Once the blood clot gets into smaller vessels and capillaries, it can cause a blockage. If the blockage occurs in the brain it can be labeled a stroke and a blood clot in the heart can cause a heart attack. A blood clot that lodges into the lungs is called a pulmonary embolism.

The symptoms of a pulmonary embolism are very clear. They range from shortness of breath to sharp chest pain, rapid pulse, intense sweating, anxiety and more. It is critical to recognize the signs of a pulmonary embolism and treat it immediately to save patients’ lives.

Medical providers are trained professionals and there are many stages at which a pulmonary embolism should be recognized. When the symptoms of the condition are misunderstood or minimized by medical staff as stress or a less serious condition, the delay can be deadly.

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute define a pulmonary embolism (PE) as a sudden blockage in a lung artery. The blockage is actually a blood clot or blood clots that have traveled to the lungs from another part of the body. These traveling blood clots commonly form in the deep veins of the legs, and are called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). A pulmonary embolism can be disabling or fatal. Medical professionals may also use the term venous thromboembolism (VTE) to refer to both a patient’s DVT and resulting PE.

Based on the Surgeon General’s May 2006 workshop on DVT and PE, the Call to Action concluded that proven medical practices that can assess patient risk; and prevent, diagnose, and treat DVT and PE in the at risk patient are available to the medical community. Sadly, the Surgeon General’s Call also concluded that patients who could benefit from these proven medical practices are not receiving them because too many health care providers are not aware of the practices, nor are these practices applied to patient care in a consistent and routine manner. PE/DVT is considered the leading preventable cause of death in hospitalized patients in the United States. The scope of this preventable tragedy becomes clear when one considers the Surgeon General’s estimate that approximately 350,000 to 600,000 patients suffer DVT and PE each year in the United States, with a minimum of 100,000 related DVT and PE deaths annually. The vast majority of these are preventable with timely diagnosis and treatment.

The following is a list of medical conditions that physicians and nurses must look for that increase the likelihood of a patient who is at risk for developing DVT/PE:

  • Current or previous diagnosis of DVT blood clots, or previous pulmonary embolism
  • Hospitalization
  • Recent surgery
  • Recent period of immobilization, e.g., bed rest, sitting in a car or plane for hours
  • Prolonged air plane or car travel
  • Recent broken bone
  • Cancer
  • Heart Disease
  • Pregnancy, or recent birth
  • Increased Age
  • Hormonal birth control or hormonal therapy in women
  • Previous stroke or heart attack
  • Trauma or injury
  • Recent spinal cord injury
  • Family history of blood clots
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Inherited or genetic blood clotting condition which increases clotting, e.g., Factor V Leiden
  • Persons with a central venous catheter
  • Varicose veins
  • Current or recent infection
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) including Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis

Some pulmonary embolism victims may experience PE symptoms while others may experience no symptoms at all. In addition, some PE victims experience DVT symptoms only. Because a PE is a medical emergency, it is important to seek medical attention if you experience any PE symptoms. Symptoms of pulmonary embolism may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Sudden shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Cough or cough with blood
  • Wheezing
  • Irregular heart beat (arrhythmia)
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Bluish tint to skin
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Increased or rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fever

DVT is a medical emergency since a pulmonary embolism is a complication of a deep vein thrombosis or blood clot. It is important that physicians and nurses must recognize the symptoms of a DVT. DVT symptoms may include:

  • Swelling of the leg or along the vein of the leg
  • Leg pain and tenderness. Skin in affected area may appear red or discolored and be warm to the touch.

With timely diagnosis and treatment, people can survive DVT/PE and live a long and fulfilling life.

Even though the signs and symptoms of the pulmonary embolism can look like other conditions, it is up to the medical staff to rule out those things and make the correct diagnosis. If the symptoms can be several things, the doctor needs to conduct the proper tests to conclusively rule out a pulmonary embolism. The easiest thing to do is prevent a pulmonary embolism before it starts. If doctors can treat a patient’s blood clots, then the risk of a pulmonary embolism is greatly reduced. If doctors identify these symptoms as a blood clot and treat it with blood thinners, the blood clot will dissolve before it turns lethal. To diagnose blood clots, doctors can employ tests such as a venous Doppler study to see if there are blood clots in the legs, or an EKG or an ultrasound of the heart to check for blood clots in the heart. If blood clots are found, doctors can prescribe anticoagulants to dissolve the blood clot.

If the doctors do not catch the blood clot and the individual actually gets a pulmonary embolism there is little time to act. The person must be given emergency surgery in order to save their life. It depends on whether the blood clot lodges in a main artery or not. Eventually the blocked area will die causing serious problems and eventually death if not treated.

Women on certain birth control pills are at particularly high risk for developing pulmonary embolus. In a safety communication dated May 31, 2011, the FDA alerted the medical community and patients of findings from two recent studies which examined whether the risk of DVT and PE was increased in women taking birth control pills containing the progestin hormone, drospirenone, as compared to women taking birth control pills containing a different progestin called levonorgestrel. Both studies reported a greater risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE) associated with birth control pills containing drospirenone. The risk of VTE was reported to be up to 2 to 3 times greater than the risk of VTE associated with using levongestrel-containing birth control pills. Birth control pills containing drospirenone include: Beyaz, Gianvi, Loryna, Ocella, Safyral, Syeda, Yasmin, Yaz, and Zarah.

Did a heath care professional fail to diagnose or misdiagnose a pulmonary embolism? Please contact the pulmonary embolus lawyers at The O’Keefe Firm for free consultation to determine whether negligence was the cause for the failure to diagnose the pulmonary embolism.

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