Can Pulmonary Embolus Cause The Same Symptoms As Asthma?

Following abdominal surgery last November, I had nonspecific pulmonary symptoms. The respiratory specialist labeled it as asthma and treated me with high doses of cortisone. However, I’m 49 and have never had asthma before.

A month later, I experienced a rapid heartbeat and felt like I was suffocating. I was then diagnosed with multiple pulmonary emboli and treated. My respiratory specialist continues to insist I have asthma and has me on a cortisone inhaler twice daily. What can I do to verify this diagnosis?

As you have discovered, pulmonary embolus — the passage of a blood clot from a blood vessel into the pulmonary artery — can result in symptoms that mimic asthma. On occasion, a lung scan will not even reveal the pulmonary embolus. The presence of hypoxia (low oxygen content in the arterial blood) is a common accompaniment to both pulmonary embolus and asthma during a severe exacerbation.

It is possible to have both problems at the same time, but if they both began at the same time, it is reasonable to want to confirm the diagnosis. Asthma can best be diagnosed by using pulmonary function studies (breathing tests).

Ordinarily, while people are off their asthma medication, such as a bronchodilator, they will experience a decrease in lung function and problems breathing; when they begin to use the medication again lung function increases.

Your pulmonologist should be able to satisfy your concerns. All too often patients are reluctant to speak freely about what may be troubling them, and physicians are not even aware of their concerns. Good communication is very important.

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