What is an embolism

An embolism is a condition where blood flow in an artery is blocked by a foreign body such as a blood clot or air bubbles.

To function properly, the body’s tissues and organs need oxygen, which is transported to every part of it by the bloodstream.

If the blood supply to major organs such as the brain, heart or lungs is blocked, they stop functioning normally and lose some or all of their functions.

Two of the most serious conditions that can be caused by an embolism are:

  • Stroke, when blood supply to the brain is blocked or completely stopped;
  • Pulmonary embolism, when blood flow to the lungs is blocked.

What causes an embolism

  • A foreign body is any substance that should not be in the blood. Foreign bodies causing emboli are called emboli – single emboli are referred to as an embolus.
  • Blood contains natural substances that make the blood clot to prevent excessive bleeding, for example from a cut.
  • Certain clinical conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer or pregnancy can cause blood clots, called thrombi, to form in areas where there is no bleeding. A clot can travel through the bloodstream before it lodges in an organ or limb.
  • Fractures of long bones such as the femur can cause fatty particles from the bones to enter the bloodstream. This can also happen with more severe burns or bone surgery.
  • From air bubbles or other gases that for some reason have entered the bloodstream. Air embolisms are particularly problematic for divers. If the diver swims too close to the surface, the change in pressure causes nitrogen bubbles to appear in the blood. This can lead to the development of caisson or decompression sickness.
  • Cholesterol – in people with more advanced atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries due to cholesterol build-up on their walls) small pieces of cholesterol can break away from the wall of the artery, leading to an embolism.

The risk of an embolism can be increased by:

  • Overweight or obesity, where the body mass index is over 30;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Cardiovascular diseases;
  • Tobacco smoking;
  • Prolonged immobilization of the body;

Embolism treatment

How an embolism is treated depends on:

  • The cause of the blockage of the artery;
  • In which part of the body is the blocked artery;
  • < strong>What part of the artery is blocked;

A surgical procedure called an embolectomy is sometimes performed to remove the cause of the blockage in the artery.

During this operation, the surgeon makes an incision in the affected artery and removes the foreign body that is causing the blockage by suctioning it. This process is called aspiration.

Medications are also used to dissolve the embolism, for example thrombotic antiplatelet agents. Anticoagulants such as warfarin, heparin and low doses of aspirin make the blood thinner and so the likelihood of a blood clot forming decreases.

An embolism, which is caused by air bubbles entering the bloodstream, is usually treated in a hyperbaric chamber. In it, the atmospheric pressure is higher than the normal pressure outside, which helps reduce the size of the nitrogen bubbles in the diver’s blood.

How can we prevent an embolism?

An embolism is a serious disease that can have serious health consequences and even be fatal. Although we cannot prevent all cases of embolism, we can take a number of measures that significantly reduce the risk of it occurring.

  1. Controlling salt intake: Limiting salt intake to 6 grams per day is a key measure to prevent embolism. High salt intake can lead to increased blood pressure and fluid imbalance in the body, which can contribute to the formation of blood clots.

  2. Physical Activity: Regular physical activity is essential to maintain healthy blood flow and cardiovascular function. It is recommended that we aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. This can include walking, running, cycling or swimming.

  3. Healthy Diet: Nutrition plays an important role in maintaining healthy blood flow and reducing the risk of embolism. Including fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can help maintain healthy weight and cholesterol levels.

  4. Drinking enough fluids: Maintaining a good level of hydration in the body is also very important. Not drinking enough fluids can contribute to the formation of dense blood clots.

  5. Avoid smoking: If you are a smoker, quitting this harmful habit is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your heart and vascular health system. Smoking increases the risk of blood clots and disrupts blood circulation.

  6. Regular medical examinations: Regular visits to the doctor and the performance of appropriate medical tests can help in the early detection of factors or conditions that may increase the risk of embolism. Your doctor can advise you and prescribe the necessary drugs or preventive measures.

  7. Stress Management: Prolonged stress can have a negative effect on the cardiovascular system. Relaxation exercises and stress management techniques, such as yoga or meditation, can be helpful in maintaining heart and vascular health.

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