ZocdocAnswersWhat causes Pulmonary Embolism/Atrial Thrombus?

Question

What causes Pulmonary Embolism/Atrial Thrombus?

Hello, my father passed away suddenly a few days ago. He was 61 and had no medical problems. The medical examiner report said he died from a pulmonary thromboembolism due to atrial thrombus. He was a pretty heavy smoker and had a pretty bad smokers cough. He also drank quite a bit of coffee. He stood for over 8 hours a day at work, and in his free spent alot of time laying on the couch watching TV. He was starting to exsersize regularly and rarely drank alcohol. The only medical symptoms he had told me about where: A few years ago he was on vacation in a country with hot weather had told me his legs were swelling up and in pain, about a month before he died he had caught a really bad cold and had told me his chest felt like it was on fire, a couple of weeks before he died he told someone his heart was beating weird. Could you please tell me what causes this and how this could have happened to my dad, at only 61 years old and no underlying medical problems?

Answer

I'm very sorry to hear of the loss of your father. I hope that your family and friends can support one another during this very difficult time. From the information you provided and with the report of the medical examiner, it sounds like your father likely developed what is called atrial fibrillation in the week before he passed away. What he describes as his heart "beating weird" was likely the irregular rhythm of atrial fibrillation, which many patients can feel and describe as some sort of unusual sensation or "funny" heartbeat. When the heart does not beat regularly, blood does not move smoothly through heart and it is possible for a blood clot to form on the leaflets of the heart valves. If one of those clots breaks off of the heart valves, it will travel out of the heart where it can cause life-threatening emboli outside of the heart. The most common complication of thromboemboli (clots that travel) from atrial fibrillation is actually a stroke when the clots travel out of the heart up the carotid artery and into the brain. In your father's case, it sounds like the medical examiner believes that a clot may have formed on the right side of the heart and subsequently traveled into the lungs where it caused a fatal pulmonary embolism. Unfortunately, both a pulmonary embolism and atrial fibrillation can happen to people who are otherwise healthy. If you have any other questions about the medical examiner's report, you should be able to speak with him or her. Your father's physician or your physician can also be a resource should you need additional information.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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