What is embolism?

An embolism is a blockage of an artery in the body that decreases or even completely interrupts blood flow. An embolus is generally considered to be a small body detached from another part of the body, different from its location, and which has been transported by the bloodstream to collapse a vessel with insufficient diameter to allow it to circulate freely. As a consequence, ischemia is produced in the area of the affected vessel.

There are several clinical forms of embolism: cerebral embolism, in which the obstruction affects a cerebral vessel and is manifested by a more or less severe stroke; pulmonary embolism, occlusion of the pulmonary artery that can lead to the loss of function of part of the lung or, in severe cases, instant death; embolism of the central retinal artery, which can lead to blindness of the affected eye.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms that may occur are a drop in temperature in the arms or legs, decreased or absent pulse, lack of movement in an arm or leg, pain and muscle spasm in the affected area, numbness, weakness, tingling and/or pallor of the affected part. Subsequently, blisters, skin detachment, skin ulcers and necrosis may also appear. In addition, depending on the organ affected, there is pain in the affected part and reduced functionality of the organ.

Causes of embolism or why it occurs

Embolisms can be caused by the incrustation of a foreign body or embolus (blood thrombus, fat, amniotic fluid or parasites) or by infection in the affected area. In addition, the accumulation of tumor cells migrating from the original tumor can also generate embolism and metastasis. Another cause is air embolism, that is, accumulation of air caused by lesions in the veins or postoperative complications.

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Can it be prevented?

It is possible to prevent an embolism by identifying possible generators of blood clots. In addition, the patient’s rhythm and quality of life should also be taken into account. Smoking, lack of exercise, hypertension, abnormal cholesterol levels, diabetes, overweight or stress are risk factors for the development of embolism.

What is the treatment?

The objectives of the treatment are to control the symptoms and improve the interrupted blood flow in the affected area. At the pharmacological level, the specialist will prescribe anticoagulants to prevent the formation of clots and break them up, antiplatelet drugs, painkillers administered intravenously and thrombolytics. In certain cases surgery will be required, such as bypassing the artery to create a second source of irrigation, extraction of the clot by means of a balloon catheter in the affected artery or open surgery on the artery (embolectomy) and opening of the artery by means of a balloon catheter (angioplasty), with or without a stent.