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New Treatment Is Saving the Lives of Patients Suffering from a Pulmonary Embolism

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pulmonary embolism

New Treatment Is Saving the Lives of Patients Suffering from a Pulmonary Embolism

December 21, 2010

Written for Veins1 by Michelle Alford

Pulmonary embolism (PE) is the third leading cause of death in hospitalized patients—killing 150,000 people a year. PE occurs when one of the lung’s main arteries becomes blocked and, as a result, less oxygen is able to travel through the blood to the heart and brain. A recently introduced treatment is saving the lives of patients diagnosed with massive PE.

What Causes Muscle Loss in  Elderly?

  • Insulin doesn't cause blood vessels to expand
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    Dr. Lin’s Advice

  • If your lower leg becomes red, swollen, and causes you pain or discomfort, see a doctor. While these initial symptoms may not seem serious, they can lead to more serious conditions if not treated.

  •  Always contact the hospital immediately if you are suffering from chest pain.  
  • The most common cause of PE is a lower leg condition called deep vein thrombosis. A blood clot forms in the deep veins of the legs and causes swelling, redness, and pain or discomfort. In some cases, the clots break off and travel to the lung, resulting in difficulty breathing and chest pain. Most patients with PE believe that they are having a heart attack.

    Currently, the primary treatment for PE is anticoagulants, or blood thinners, and systemic thrombolysis. Blood thinners are not meant to break down the clot—rather, they’re used to keep the clot from becoming worse. Thrombolysis, which is commonly called “clot-buster”, is the medication that reduces and destroys the clot. However, because the thrombolysis is usually given through an IV and doesn’t go directly to the lung, it is not an effective treatment.

    According to Peter Lin, Chief of the Division of Vascular Surgery and Endovascular Therapy at the Baylor College of Medicine, “The difficulty or challenge with systemic thrombolysis is the medication goes through the entire body and only a small fraction actually goes to the lung.


    Peter Lin recently presented information about Catheter Directed Ultrasound (EKOS) Thrombolysis , a novel treatment for massive PE that uses available technology in a new way, at the 37th Annual VEITHsymposium in New York. Instead of pumping medicine through the entire body to treat a small, localized clot, a catheter is inserted directly into the lungs—depositing the medicine directly where needed instead of pumping it through the entire body.

    In addition, EKOS thromobolysis is ultrasound accelerated treatment. According to Lin, “Ultrasound energy actually separates the lung fiber, which provides greater surface area. This better allows the thromolysis to come in and break the clot apart. It’s much harder for the thrombolysis to penetrate when the fibers are clumped together.” This means a quicker treatment with less medication necessary and fewer complications.


    Studies show that the majority of patients with massive PE who were treated with EKOS thrombolysis were discharged from the hospital within five days and remained symptom free at their follow-up visits two years later.

    Because the equipment for this treatment is already available at most hospitals and minimal additional training is required, EKOS thrombolysis can be easily adapted across the country. 

    Photo: Brandon Baunach 

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