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What is the process for diagnosing pulmonary embolism?

A doctor considers a combination of factors when diagnosing a pulmonary embolism. Standard approaches in New Mexico include looking for warning signs in the patient's medical history, and a physical exam follows next. As reported by the National Institutes of Health, pulmonary embolisms tend to be discovered in emergency rooms. The doctor on duty first decides if the patient's medical history and physical exam indicate a possible pulmonary embolism. Signs of deep vein thrombosis are looked for in the patient's legs. The blood pressure and state of the patient's heart and lungs are measured as well.

A host of tests can assist a doctor in diagnosing a pulmonary embolism. An ultrasound may be used to look for blood clots in the legs. Computed tomography, commonly known as CT scans, may be used to find clots in the legs or lungs. Another option is to use a radioactive substance during a lung ventilation/perfusion scan to measure oxygen and blood flow in the lungs.

Additionally, the D-dimmer blood test may detect agents in the blood associated with clots. Although not available at every hospital, pulmonary angiography might find a clot.

A busy emergency room creates the possibility of a pulmonary embolism being missed due to the multiple procedures needed to diagnose it. For family members who have lost a loved one because of a fatal emergency room error, a wrongful death claim to pay for funeral expenses and other damages might be appropriate. An attorney who has experience in medical malpractice matters may be able to determine, through discussions with experts and the consideration of other factors, if the evidence supports a finding of negligence on the part of the health care practitioners and the facility.

Source: National Institutes of Health, "How Is Pulmonary Embolism Diagnosed?" July 1, 2011

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