There may actually be a such thing as a pulmonary embolus that does not require treatment.

According to the leader of a very intriguing study, some pulmonary emboli can resolve on their own and do not require treatment.

Conditions that are ripe for blood clot formation in a vein (deep vein thrombosis) include orthopedic surgery, lengthy surgery, old age and prolonged immobility following surgery.

“If these clots break away from the wall of the blood vessel and travel to the lungs, this is called pulmonary emboli,” explains the lead author, Paul Tornetta, MD.

The report is in the September 2012 Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Once a blood clot becomes a pulmonary embolus, grave complications can occur including sudden death.

Pulmonary embolism

This report explains that not all pulmonary emboli require the same aggressive treatment.

Dr. Tornetta points out that, while there is an increase in pulmonary embolism diagnosis, there is not a correlating increase in death.

“What this suggests is that not all clots have the same clinical relevance,” he says. “That is, they may not require the same aggressive level of blood thinners for treatment.”

Diagnostic tests have become more and more sensitive, and thus, “may be picking up small, relatively insignificant clots,” continues Dr. Tornetta, that can actually resolve on their own.

So what’s wrong with aggressive treatment for these relatively insignificant clots?

Treatment for pulmonary embolus typically involves powerful blood thinners that can raise risk of post-surgical bleeding.

Unfortunately, today’s medical technology does not include an instrument that can distinguish between blood clots that are dangerous and those that do not necessitate treatment.

For instance, the computerized tomography pulmonary angiogram is remarkable at picking up pulmonary emboli, but at the same time, it also detects smaller clots that can go away on their own.

So what’s the solution for now?

Dr. Tornetta suggests that doctors increase their criteria for blood clot screening prior to ordering blood thinner therapy.

Some criteria may be location and size of the blood clot.

Hallmark symptoms of a pulmonary embolus are sudden shortness of breath and chest pain.

Additional Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolus cites the following symptoms:

swelling in one leg, bluish skin, clammy skin, pronounced sweating, irregular or rapid heartbeat, a weak pulse, fainting and lightheadedness.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.