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How is pulmonary embolism diagnosed?

Diagnosing pulmonary embolism is difficult because of the large number of other medical conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Diagnosis depends upon an accurate and thorough medical history and ruling out other conditions. Your doctor will need to know about your symptoms and risk factors for developing deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. This information, combined with a careful physical exam, will guide which initial tests are best suited to diagnose a deep vein

thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. Non-invasive tests cannot be used in the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism. Often, the physician must eliminate the possibility of other lung diseases before determining that the condition is pulmonary embolism. A test called V/Q scan, a nuclear ventilation-perfusion study of the lungs, may be used, as well as a pulmonary angiography. New diagnostic methods are under investigation

The diagnosis of pulmonary embolism (PE), suspected on the basis of shortness of breath and chest pain, with or without an abnormal X-ray, can be confirmed by a medical test called a "ventilation-perfusion scan" (or V/Q scan), which shows that some areas of the lung are being ventilated but not perfused with blood (due to obstruction by a clot).

Pulmonary angiography is the most reliable test for diagnosing pulmonary embolism but it is not used often, because it carries some risk and is expensive, invasive, and not readily available in many hospitals. Pulmonary angiography is a radiographic test which involves injection of a pharmaceutical "contrast agent" to show up the pulmonary arteries. A cinematic camera records the blood flow through the lungs of the patient, who lies on a table. Pulmonary angiography is usually performed in a hospital's radiology department and takes 30 minutes to one hour.

An electrocardiograph shows the heart's electrical activity and helps distinguish pulmonary embolism from a heart attack. Electrodes covered with conducting jelly are placed on the patient's chest, arms, and legs. Impulses of the heart's activity are traced on paper. The test takes about 10 minutes and can be performed in a physician's office or hospital lab.

Arterial blood gas measurements can be helpful, but they are rarely diagnostic for pulmonary embolism. Blood is taken from an artery instead of a vein, usually in the wrist and it is analyzed for oxygen, carbon dioxide and acid levels.

 

More information on pulmonary embolism

What is pulmonary embolism? - Pulmonary embolism is an obstruction of a blood vessel in the lungs, usually due to a blood clot, which blocks a coronary artery.
What causes pulmonary embolism? - The most common cause of pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that forms in a deep vein in your leg, breaks loose, travels to the lungs.
What're the risk factors for pulmonary embolism? - Risk factors for pulmonary embolism include: prolonged bed rest, surgery, childbirth, heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure.
What are the symptoms of pulmonary embolism? - The signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism can vary greatly, depending on how much of the lung is involved.
How is pulmonary embolism diagnosed? - Diagnosis of pulmonary embolism depends upon an accurate and thorough medical history and ruling out other conditions.
What's the treatment for pulmonary embolism? - Treatment of pulmonary embolism focuses on preventing future pulmonary embolism by using anticoagulant medications.
How to prevent pulmonary embolism? - Pulmonary embolism risk can be reduced in certain patients through judicious use of antithrombotic drugs.
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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005, health-cares.net, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005