Treatments and drugsBy Mayo Clinic staff
Prompt treatment of pulmonary embolism is essential to prevent serious complications or death.
Medications to treat pulmonary embolism include:
- Anticoagulants. Heparin works quickly and is usually delivered with a needle. Warfarin (Coumadin) and rivaroxaban (Xarelto) come in pill form. These drugs prevent new clots from forming, but it takes a few days before warfarin and rivaroxaban begin to work. Risks include bleeding gums and easy bruising.
- Clot dissolvers (thrombolytics). While clots usually dissolve on their own, certain medications can dissolve clots quickly. Because these clot-busting drugs can cause sudden and severe bleeding, they usually are reserved for life-threatening situations.
Surgical and other procedures
In some cases, your doctor might recommend a procedure to treat pulmonary embolism, such as:
- Clot removal. If you have a very large clot in your lung and you're in shock, your doctor may thread a thin flexible tube (catheter) through your blood vessels and suction out the clot. It can be difficult to remove a clot this way, and this procedure isn't always successful.
- Vein filter. A catheter can also be used to place a filter in the main vein — called the inferior vena cava — that leads from your legs to the right side of your heart. This filter catches and stops blood clots moving through the blood stream toward your lungs. Filter insertion is typically reserved for people who can't take anticoagulant drugs or when anticoagulant drugs don't work well enough.
- Surgery. If you're in shock and thrombolytic medication isn't working quickly enough, your doctor might attempt emergency surgery. This happens infrequently, and the goal is to remove as many blood clots as possible, especially if there's a large clot in your main (central) pulmonary artery.
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