Pulmonary embolism in children is rare, but thanks to advanced technology and the pediatric heart experts at the Nemours Cardiac Center (based at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children), most children with a pulmonary embolism can be quickly diagnosed and treated. Early detection and treatment will give your child the very best possible chance for a healthy future.
When your child has a heart condition, we want to help you learn as much as you can about the problem. Understanding what’s going on inside your child’s heart can make things a little less stressful and scary for you, your child and your whole family. Plus, the more you know, the more you can be an advocate throughout your child’s care.
Pulmonary emboli (the plural of “embolism”) are clots that block the arteries delivering oxygen-poor blood to the lungs. They may form in a variety of places in the body initially, but then get dislodged and stuck in the lungs.
A pulmonary embolism is much more common in adults, but may occur in:
- children with clotting abnormalities (their blood clots too easily — this is called “hypercoagulable”)
- girls on oral contraceptives (birth control pills), which increase the risk of clotting
How Does the Heart Normally Work?
When your child has a congenital heart defect, there’s usually something wrong with the structure of the heart. In order to understand your child’s condition, it can help to know how the heart should work normally.
Learn More About Normal Cardiac Anatomy »
Nemours’ experts at KidsHealth.org also offer these helpful resources to help both you and your child understand how the heart works:
The blockage of the pulmonary arteries that happens in pulmonary embolism results in at least two problems:
- The child may have low oxygen levels in the body (called “hypoxia”).
- If the blockage is severe, it may put so much strain on the right ventricle (the chamber of the heart that pumps blood forward to the lungs) that the right ventricle begins to fail.
Usually, children with pulmonary embolism will develop sudden onset of shortness of breath (difficulty catching your breath) or trouble breathing. They may also develop pain during breathing. We can usually diagnose a pulmonary embolism with either a CT scan or an echocardiogram (“echo”).
Most cases of pulmonary embolism in children can be treated with medicines, usually blood thinners. Occasionally, when the right ventricle is failing or the clot is extremely big, children may need surgery to remove the clot.
After diagnosis, most pulmonary emboli will resolve with medical therapy. All children will need to be on blood thinners for several months and, depending on the cause of the clot, some may need blood thinners for life. Children with a lot of clots inside the arteries to the lungs may develop high blood pressure in the lungs (called “pulmonary hypertension”), which is one reason why surgery may become necessary.
When it comes to pulmonary embolism in children, know that at the Nemours Cardiac Center we’re here to give your child the very best, most comprehensive and compassionate care. Our goal is to guide your family, from start to finish, through your child’s heart disease journey — and to help your child live the healthiest, most fulfilling life possible.
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Information for Patients
Outpatient Services and Inpatient Units: (302) 651-6660
After 5 p.m. and Weekends:
Cardiac Intensive Care Unit: (302) 651-6644
General Inpatient Unit, 2B: (302) 651-6690