Sunday, March 6th, 2011
News sources are reporting that tennis pro Serena Williams is being treated for a Pulmonary Embolism. It has apparently sent her to the hospital several times in the past week. So, what is a pulmonary embolism?
A pulmonary embolism (a.k.a. PE) is a clot that travels to the lungs, essentially preventing oxygen from reaching the blood in certain blood vessels. The clot usually originates in the leg, then travels up to the lungs via the main veins. It’s most common in people with severe disease (like cancer), blood clotting disorders, recent major surgery, and occasionally in people who fly long distances without getting up to move their legs. It is one of the most dreaded complications of surgery, and the one I often warn my patients about.
It’s good that Serena’s doctors caught the PE before her condition worsened. While in residency (thank God not in my practice) I’ve seen many people die from PE’s. Make sure to get up and walk every hour or two if you are flying on a plane!