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Preventing Pulmonary Embolism

NYU Langone doctors offer advice on how to prevent pulmonary embolism, a serious blockage in the arteries of the lungs. This condition is usually caused by blood clots that develop in the deep veins of the legs, called deep vein thrombosis.

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If not treated quickly, these clots can break loose and travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, leading to pulmonary embolism. This starves lung tissue of blood, making it difficult or impossible for the lungs to provide oxygen to the rest of the body. Pulmonary embolism is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment with medication, surgery, or both.

The best way to prevent pulmonary embolism is to minimize the chance of developing blood clots and deep vein thrombosis. Risk factors include prolonged immobility, having a family history of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, being older than age 60, having certain cancers, being a smoker, and using oral contraceptives or hormone therapy.

Lifestyle Changes

Leading an active lifestyle, quitting smoking, and staying as mobile as possible can decrease your risk of developing pulmonary embolism.

Daily Physical Activity

If you regularly remain inactive at a desk for many hours a day, NYU Langone doctors advise you to stand frequently and stretch, take occasional walking breaks, and flex and move your legs and feet while seated. These small steps increase and promote healthy blood flow.

Travel Precautions

Long car and plane rides may force you to sit in one position, but our doctors recommend that you find ways to move as much as possible. Avoid crossing your legs for long periods of time.

If you’re on a plane, lift your knees and rotate your ankles to get blood moving while sitting, and stand up and walk when possible. If you’re in a car, take regular breaks to stretch and move around.

Dehydration can increase the risk of blood clots. Drinking plenty of water is always important, but it’s especially necessary when you’ve been immobile for several hours. Drink as much water as possible and make time for bathroom breaks and to stretch your legs.

Our doctors also advise wearing compression stockings on long trips to help keep blood from pooling in the legs.

Mobility After Surgery

People who are at risk of developing blood clots may be given anticoagulant, or blood-thinning, medications before and after any surgery. This decreases the risk of blood clots forming during recovery, when you may be lying in bed for long periods of time. If you’re having surgery, our doctors and nurses encourage you to get up and walk and move around as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Weight Management

Being obese puts additional pressure on the veins in the legs, which can contribute to poor blood flow and the development of blood clots. If you’re overweight, losing even a few pounds can lower blood pressure and increase blood flow. NYU Langone doctors can direct you to our Weight Management Program to help guide you to a healthier weight.

Tobacco Cessation

Toxic chemicals in cigarettes harm blood cells and blood vessels and make you more susceptible to deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Our specialists know that quitting isn’t easy. NYU Langone offers effective Tobacco Cessation Programs.

Hormonal Supplements

Hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives increase the risk of developing blood clots and pulmonary embolism, especially if you smoke or are overweight.

Estrogen, which is often found in hormone replacement and oral contraceptives, raises the risk of deep vein thrombosis by increasing the production of certain chemicals that help blood to clot. It can also increase the number of platelets, which are blood cells that stick together and form clots.

Progestin has been shown to cause the blood vessels to widen, allowing blood to pool in the veins, which also increases the risk of clot formation. Your NYU Langone physician can discusses with you in detail whether these treatments are right for you and suggest alternatives, if needed.

Our Research and Education in Pulmonary Embolism

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.