Yesterday evening, news broke that New England Patriots starting center David Andrews has been hospitalized with blood clots in his lungs and that he is expected to miss considerable time because of the issue. The 27-year-old has since returned from the hospital, but questions remain not just from a football perspective but more importantly as it relates to his medical status and recovery.
What is pulmonary embolism?
Pulmonary embolism is the technical term used when talking about a blood clot having built in the lungs. Essentially, it is a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries and occurs when material — in Andrews’ case a blood clot — gets stuck in an artery. The sections of the lung served by this artery can then be robbed of blood flow and may even die as a result, resulting in the rest of the body receiving less oxygen.
Needless to say that this is a serious issue, and the statistics show why: about a third of people with undiagnosed and untreated pulmonary embolism don’t survive. When diagnosed and treated quickly, however, the condition is far less dangerous.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms may vary from case to case, but according to the Mayo Clinic the following signs are rather common for pulmonary embolism:
Shortness of breath. This symptom typically appears suddenly and always gets worse with exertion.
Chest pain. You may feel like you’re having a heart attack. The pain may become worse when you breathe deeply (pleurisy), cough, eat, bend or stoop. The pain will get worse with exertion but won’t go away when you rest.
Cough. The cough may produce bloody or blood-streaked sputum.
How are they diagnosed?
In order to diagnose pulmonary embolism as such, doctors use a variety of methods:
- Blood tests
- Chest X-ray
- Spiral CT-Scan
- Pulmonary angiogram
While the first five methods are pretty straight forward, the sixth — a pulmonary angiogram — is the most complicated and dangerous, but also the most accurate. The procedure basically sees a catheter inserted into a vein and sending a special dye through the body that will then show the blockage on an X-ray scan.
How are they treated?
There are two ways of treating bloods clots in the lungs: medication and surgery, depending on the severity of the issue. In order to dissolve the blockage and allow blood to flow through the effected area, patients are given blood thinners and clot dissolvers. If the issue is life-threatening or otherwise untreatable through medication, the clot may be removed surgically or a filter inserted into the main vein to prevent further clots from traveling to the lungs.
In Andrews’s case, it appears likely that he received blood thinners and dissolvers, with the news of him being sent home from the hospital as an indication that he responded well to the initial treatment. The problem with blood thinners is that they, well, make the blood thinner. In turn, the risk of internal bleeding is increased which is particularly worrisome when it comes to playing a full-contact sport like football.
What does this mean for David Andrews?
Without knowing the exact diagnosis and how he responded to the treatment thus far, making any projections about Andrews is impossible. Based on reports, however, it seems as if he is looking at a recovery time of three months or more. The Patriots are therefore expected to be without their starting center for a considerable portion if not all of the season, but the most important news is that the issue was diagnosed quickly and that Andrews appears to be on his way to recovery — no matter how long it takes to get him there.