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Discharge Instructions for Pulmonary Embolism

A pulmonary embolism is a blockage of an artery in the lungs.

It is treated with home care and medicines.

Steps to Take

Home Care

Pulmonary embolisms may be caused by blood clots in your legs. If you have problems in your legs, your doctor may tell you to:

  • Wear compression stockings and raise your legs.
  • Watch for signs of swelling in your legs.

Diet

Eat a healthy diet. Keep it low in saturated fat and rich in whole grains, fruits, and veggies. You may also need to meet with a dietitian.

Unless you are on a fluid-restricted diet, be sure to drink plenty of water every day. You may be advised to limit alcohol.

Physical Activity

Blood can pool in your legs if you are still for long periods of time. This can lead to blood clots. Move around as often as you are able. Stretch your arms and legs at regular intervals.

Workout regularly. Aim for 30 minutes of activity most days of the week. This can include light activities, such as walking.

Ask your doctor when you can return to work, drive, and return to regular exercise.

Medications

You may be given blood thinners to take for 3 to 6 months.

If you are taking medicine:

  • Take the medicine as advised. Don't change the amount or the schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could happen. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medicine.
  • Don't share your prescription medicine with anyone.
  • Medicines can be harmful when mixed. Talk to your doctor if you are taking more than one, including over the counter products and supplements.
  • Plan ahead for refills.

If you are on blood thinners, try to avoid cuts by:

  • Wearing rubber gloves or garden gloves for chores and outdoor work
  • Using an electric razor for shaving

Lifestyle Changes

If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can quit.

Follow-up

Your doctor will need to check on your condition. This includes exams and blood tests. If you are taking the blood thinner Coumadin, you must have blood tests done regularly. These tests will make sure the dose of this medicine is not too high or too low. Go to all appointments.

Call for Medical Help Right Away If Any of the Following Occur

Call your doctor if you aren't getting better or you have:

  • Shortness of breath that starts suddenly for no obvious reason
  • Chest pain, especially when breathing or coughing (it can mimic a heart attack)
  • Cough, sometimes with bloody phlegm
  • Rapid breathing
  • Anxiety or a feeling of doom
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Bluish color of the skin due to a lack of oxygen

If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.

RESOURCES:

American Lung Association
http://www.lung.org

American Society of Hematology
http://www.hematology.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

The Lung Association
http://www.lung.ca

REFERENCES:

Konstantinides S. Clinical practice. Acute pulmonary embolism. N Engl J Med. 2008;359(26):2804-2813.

Medicare/Joint Commission National Hospital inpatient quality measures. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/pulmonary-embolism-pe#GUID-C8E7425A-5F59-4F87-8121-9C5DEAC02D9A. Accessed December 19, 2018.

Pulmonary embolism. The Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.ca/lung-health/lung-disease/pulmonary-embolism/symptoms. Accessed December 19, 2018.

Pulmonary embolism in older adults. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: https://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Accessed December 19, 2018.

Pulmonary embolism (PE). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/pulmonary-embolism-pe. Accessed December 19, 2018.

Vitamin K antagonist management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/drug-review/vitamin-k-antagonist-management. Accessed December 19, 2018.

Warfarin. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/drug-monograph/warfarin. Accessed December 19, 2018.

Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD  Last Updated: 10/15/2018