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How long before a pulmonary embolism kills you?

When you have a pulmonary embolism, blood clots form in your lungs. This is serious because the clot can break loose and travel through your bloodstream to other parts of the body, like the heart or brain. When this happens, it can cause death within hours–or sometimes even minutes. So, how long before a pulmonary embolism kills you?

What Is A Pulmonary Embolism?

A pulmonary embolism (PE) is a blood clot that forms within veins in your body and travels to your lungs. A PE can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and even death. When there are multiple PEs, these are referred to in the plural form, pulmonary emboli.

How long before a pulmonary embolism kills you
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The blood clots of #pulmonaryembolism , removed from the pulmonary arteries and their branches. They form casts of the arteries. This is a cause of sudden #death#forensics #autopsy #science #medicine

A pulmonary embolism is dangerous because it interrupts the normal flow of oxygen-rich A pulmonary embolism is dangerous because it interrupts the normal flow of oxygen-rich blood through your body. Your heart will usually try to compensate by increasing the speed and force of its contractions, so you may have a fast pulse if you have a PE. However, these actions may not be enough to keep enough oxygen in your blood.

Where do pulmonary embolisms Come From?

The most common cause of a pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that forms in a vein in your leg, known The most common cause of a pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that forms in a vein in your leg, known as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). These clots can break free and travel to your lungs. Risk factors associated with PE include:

  • Cancer
  • Birth control pills or hormone therapy
  • Long airplane flights or car rides
  • Smoking
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Broken bones from a long time ago, such as those in your hip or pelvis
  • Obesity or being very overweight

In soIn some cases, no cause is found. In these cases, the condition is called “pulmonary embolism of undetermined origin”.

What Does Pulmonary Embolism Look Like at Autopsy?

Oftentimes, the pathologist is presented with a case of sudden death and the cause is unknown. The first place a pulmonary embolism is observed is when taking out the heart. When the pulmonary artery and its branches are cut, a clot may be seen at this time. These clots often extend deep into the smaller vessels of the lung. For confirmation, the pathologist may take samples of the clot and observe under the microscope, looking for characteristic layers of red blood cells (RBCs) and platelets. This can be important to differentiate from clots that form after death and are not “real”, in terms of cause of death. In addition, the pathologist may do further dissections, such as the lower limbs, to look for the source of the embolism.

Why are pulmonary embolisms Fatal?

A pulmonary embolism can be fatal because it interrupts the normal flow of oxygen-rich blood through your body. If the clot is large, it can block the flow of blood completely. This may be referred to as a “saddle embolism” because it arises at the point where the pulmonary artery splits into right and left branches, and blocks all blood from the heart to the lungs. This can cause heart failure and death. If part of the clot breaks off and travels to your heart, it can cause a heart attack. If a clot goes to your brain, it can cause a stroke.

File:3D Medical Animation still shot Pulmonary Embolism.jpg - Wikimedia  Commons
Photo credit Wikimedia

How Long Before A Pulmonary Embolism Kills You?

It is difficult to say how long before a pulmonary embolism will kill you, as it depends on the size of the clot, where it lodges in your body and other patient-specific factors. Pulmonary embolism can be a cause of sudden or instant death in approximately 25% of cases. However, PE may occur more slowly, which is why it is important to recognize symptoms and obtain treatment as soon as possible if one is suspected.

Can A Pulmonary Embolism Cause Sudden Death?

Yes, a pulmonary embolism can cause sudden death. The clot can block the flow of blood completely, which can lead to heart failure and death. If part of the clot breaks off and travels to your heart, lungs, or brain, it can cause a heart attack, stroke, or even death.

File:InfarctPandLbasilarsegmentsPE.PNG - Wikimedia Commons
Infarction of the lung due to a pulmonary embolism
Photo credit Wikimedia

Can a blood clot kill you in your sleep?

Yes, a blood clot can kill you in your sleep. Because it blocks blood flow it could happen at any time and you would be less aware of it happening if you were asleep. This would not allow action to happen and if serious enough death could happen swiftly.

What are signs that you may have a pulmonary embolism?

Signs that a pulmonary embolism may have occurred are:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • rapid pulse
  • a sudden fever
  • acute anxiety
  • fainting
  • an unusual cough, or coughing up blood

If you have symptoms, call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately. If you are treated early, this can help prevent further injury. 80-90% of people who die from PEs died before they could be treated by a doctor.

Summary of pulmonary embolisms

Pulmonary embolisms are dangerous blood clots that can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and even death. The most common cause of a pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that forms in a vein in your leg, but other risk factors include cancer, birth control pills/hormone therapy, long airplane flights or car rides, smoking, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A PE can be fatal because it interrupts the normal flow of oxygen-rich blood through your body. If a blood clot lodges in your lungs, heart, or brain, it can cause a heart attack, stroke, or death

Be sure to check out my latest Knife After Death Podcast About What Happens During An Autopsy?