Pulmonary Embolism Malpractice
A pulmonary embolism is a sudden blockage of a blood vessel such as an artery in the lung, caused by a blood clot. In a majority of cases, the clots are small and do not result in any damage. However, if the clot is larger and blocks the flow of blood to the lung, it can cause catastrophic consequences, including death. The hallmark symptoms associated with pulmonary embolism are an acute onset of shortness of breath and a sharp chest pain that worsens upon inspiration (breathing) or coughing. Other symptoms that have been documented include excessive perspiration, lightheadedness or fainting, elevated heart rate or heart palpitations and feelings of anxiety. The clots that eventually get stuck in a blood vessel more often than not do not originate in the lung or even the heart. Instead, they are caused by pieces of clots that break off of a bigger clot in the legs or abdomen and travel up through the body all the way to the lungs.
A pulmonary embolism is one of the common preventable causes of hospital deaths in America. Health care providers are trained to identify risk factors for PE such as: pregnancy, prolonged immobility, hospitalization, major surgery, admission to ICUs, 60 years of age or older, cancer, obesity, smoking, prior history of PE or deep vein thrombosis or other certain medical conditions. Doctors and hospitals typically will prescribe anti-coagulants (blood thinners) as a defense to PE. The use of anticoagulants alone, however, is insufficient to protect all patients from PE. Doctors must monitor patients for signs of developing clots in the legs (known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT). Those signs include pain, swelling, warmth, and redness of calf or thigh – especially if just in one leg.
In order to hold a doctor or hospital liable for medical malpractice in the case where a patient has been injured or died following a PE, a plaintiff typically must show that the doctor failed to appreciate clear signs and symptoms of either DVT or PE and/or failed to timely treat them. This requires a careful analysis of the patient’s medical records and recorded complaints or observations noted in their medical chart regarding their condition. Deaths from a pulmonary embolism are often sudden. Despite the suddenness of the ultimate event, these deaths are easily preventable if careful monitoring and treatment is deployed for all at risk patients.