Embolism is the medical term for the occlusion of a blood vessel by matter that is foreign to the bloodstream, such as a blood clot, air, tumour, fat, bacteria or a foreign body that may have entered the bloodstream through an injury.

Symptoms of an embolism depend upon the size and position of the artery that has been occluded. The body forms small clots constantly which are destroyed by the anticlotting mechanism in the bloodstream and specific white blood cells that attack any foreign matter. Occlusion of small vessels will, therefore, go completely unnoticed.

An embolism that obstructs a major artery can lead to a stroke if it is in the brain, a heart attack if a cardiac artery is obstructed or neurological symptoms such as pins and needles, numbness and coldness if the artery that is blocked is supplying a limb or digit. Occlusion of a bowel artery or other internal organ may give sudden and severe symptoms.

One of the main causes of embolism comes from deep vein thrombosis and dislocation of a clot from the deep leg veins can lead to the more serious complication described below.

Pulmonary embolism

A commonly heard term is that of pulmonary embolism, where a clot, very often following an operation in the lower part of the body, such as a hip replacement, dislodges and blocks the artery to the lung. This blockage prevents blood from reaching the lung tissue, resulting in poor oxygenation and a major stress on the heart. Symptoms of sudden breathlessness and chest pain, a bloody cough and faintness or fear following an operative procedure or trauma that has affected the lower part of the body should all warn of the possibility of a pulmonary embolism.

Any symptoms resembling an embolism must be treated as a medical emergency and reviewed at the nearest hospital.

Decoagulation with drugs and possibly even operative procedures may be required and these should be followed through without hesitation.

The homeopathic snake remedies Bothrops and Lachesis, potency 6, can be taken every 15min en route to the hospital.

Vitamin E, certain herbal preparations and relevant dietetic changes, especially increasing water intake, should all be discussed with a complementary medical practitioner as soon as any emergency has passed.