Heavy D Dies From Pulmonary Embolism
Robert C. Robinson III, MD
After much speculation the official cause of death of rap legend Heavy D has finally been disclosed. In a press release issued on December 27, 2011, over a month after his death, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office confirmed that the cause of Heavy D’s death was a blood clot in his lungs also known as a pulmonary embolus (PE).
A pulmonary embolism is a condition that occurs when a blood clot develops somewhere else in the body, dislodges, and then travels to the arteries of the lungs. This blood clot typically originates in the veins of the leg and is commonly referred to as a DVT or deep vein thrombosis. The life-threatening danger occurs when this clot moves from the deep veins into the blood vessels supplying the lungs.
Although little known in the general community, this condition did gain some attention when tennis great Serena Williams was diagnosed with a PE earlier this year. As in her case, DVT/PE can be treated if caught in its early stages. However, it can develop suddenly, go undetected and lead to sudden death.
PE can be fatal because the blood clot lodges in the arteries of the lungs and can compromise their blood supply. This leads to increased pressures within the heart. The increased pressure subsequently causes heart failure and cardiovascular collapse.
Review the brief description of signs and symptoms of PE and DVT below so that you and your loved ones can be aware of this potentially life threatening illness.
Who is at risk of developing DVT/PE?
There are certainly some known risk factors that can contribute to the development of a DVT/PE. These risk factors include:
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle
- Kidney disease
- Cigarette smoking
- Use of birth control pills
- Hormone replacement therapy (women)
- Hereditary clotting disorders
- Long road trips or airline flights without standing or walking to “stretch your legs”
- Recent surgery requiring immobility
What are the symptoms of a DVT/PE?
As mentioned above, a PE usually results from a DVT travelling to the lungs. The most common site for a DVT to form before travelling to the lungs is in the legs. Some common symptoms one might experience with a blood clot in their leg include:
- Swelling in one or both legs
- Pain or tenderness in one or both legs, which may occur only while standing or walking
- Warmth in the skin of the affected leg
- Red or discolored skin in the affected leg
- Visible surface veins
- Leg fatigue
If a DVT dislodges and travels to the lung it becomes a PE. While it can be a fatal illness, its symptoms are often times nonspecific. Some of the more common symptoms of PE include:
- Chest pain/tightness (most often experienced when breathing in or inhaling
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing up blood
- Palpitations (sensation of your heart racing or skipping beats)
How is DVT/PE diagnosed?
DVT/PE is often diagnosed through a series of diagnostic tests. If someone is having symptoms of a DVT, then often times an ultrasound is performed to confirm the presence of a clot. If a person presents to their physician with symptoms of a PE, then blood testing, a CT scan of the chest, VQ scan, or other radiographic tests may be performed.
How is DVT/PE treated?
In the case of non-fatal DVT/PE your primary care provider will need to place you on blood thinning medications to prevent the clot from enlarging or new clot from developing. The length of time that you will need to be on blood thinners will depend on your risk factors and what led to the development of your DVT/PE. A general rule of thumb is that a minimum 3-6 months of therapy on blood thinning medication is required to treat DVT/PE. If for some reason you are unable to take the recommended blood thinning medications, your healthcare provider may recommend the placement of a device known as a vena caval filter also known as an IVC filter. This is a small umbrella like mesh inserted through a vein in the leg designed to catch blood clots that may dislodge before they travel to the lungs.
If you are experiencing symptoms of chest pain, swelling of your legs, shortness of breath or any other symptoms mentioned above you should speak with your health care provider IMMEDIATELY! These may be signs of a DVT/PE and are cause for immediate medical attention.