Pulmonary embolism

Treatment for pulmonary embolism

If you need treatment for a pulmonary embolism, you’ll almost always receive this in hospital.

The main treatment is an anticoagulant, a drug that causes chemical changes in your blood to stop it clotting easily. The anticoagulant will stop the clot getting larger while your body slowly absorbs it. It also reduces the risk of further clots developing.

The main drugs used to treat pulmonary embolism are heparin, given by injection, and warfarin, taken as a tablet. Most people diagnosed with pulmonary embolism will need injections of heparin for at least five days. You’ll then usually continue to take warfarin only.

Other anticoagulants prescribed include dabigatranrivaroxaban and apixaban.

If you’ve been prescribed an anticoagulant, you will usually be recommended to take it for at least three months to prevent blood clots. Some people need to take them for a longer time.

Like any medication, anticoagulants may have side effects, and effects will vary from person to person. One of the most important problems is bleeding more easily and excessively. Because of this, you will need regular blood tests to make sure you’re on the best dose.

Anticoagulants interact with many other drugs, including herbal remedies, and their effectiveness can be affected by alcohol and certain foods. Your doctor, nurse and pharmacist can help you to manage your medication.

In more severe cases of pulmonary embolism, other treatments may be needed to remove or break up a clot. This might be done with a medication called thrombolytics, or less commonly, surgery.

Next: How to prevent pulmonary embolism >

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Last medically reviewed: March 2015. Due for review: March 2018

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.