I get asked a lot, how long does it take to recover from a PE? Most individuals that I have talked to about recovery from a pulmonary embolism want to know, how long they can expect to be healing. The short, uncomplicated answer is recovery is different for everyone. Keep that in mind. The extent of the damage to your body and other organs, underlying health issues, additional diagnosis and potential or discovered clotting disorders can all factor in to answer how long does it take to recover from a PE?
The longer, but still less complicated answer to how long does it take to recover from a PE depends on how your body heals. Contrary to common belief, blood thinners in fact do not dissolve blood clots. Only the body can dissolve a blood clot and in some cases, the blood clot does not dissolve and will not dissolve. As the blood thins (for example when on a blood thinner) and travels throughout the veins, it actually hits the clot and can eventually break away enough to flow by it in some cases. The body can also accommodate for the damaged area by creating scar tissue and rerouting blood flow through or around the clot. While a blood clot may no longer be at risk for breaking off and causing additional damage once turned to scar tissue, it is still there and is important to note when speaking of recovery. Your blood clot may never dissolve. Knowing this early on saved me a lot of worry and disbelief later in my treatment. When my DVT didn’t completely dissolve, I wasn’t left screaming or in tears wondering, “What do you mean?! No one told me that!”
I was diagnosed with a DVT in my left leg in June 2012. The clot broke free from my calf, right behind the knee, traveled through my heart and lodged into my left lung. I was in the Cardiac ICU for six days and the hospital for ten days total. It came out of nowhere and almost ended my life before I turned 30. My first conscious, non-drug induced, rational question (my very first question was ‘Can I run this Saturday?’) to my doctor after being released from the hospital was, “How long does it take to recover from a PE?” Followed quickly by “How long do I have to wear these compression stockings?”
He answered quickly to the latter “for about six months or until I tell you to stop.”
I wasn’t prepared then for the answer to my first question, how long does it take to recover from a PE? “Recovery from a PE generally takes about one to two years.”
Recovery from a PE takes one to two years.
Not to be the bearer of bad news (although I do have a pessimistic nature to be honest), I think more patients need to be told this – and more doctors need to realize it.
Length of treatment can vary from a few months to long-term over many years and is determined by factors your doctor should discuss with you. If he or she does not discuss length of treatment with you or to your satisfaction, ask for clarification until you receive a satisfactory answer!
At least 3-6 months of blood thinners are typically recommended, with a preference for long-term or often lifelong treatment in patients with unprovoked (occurs out of the blue, without any clear triggering factor such as surgery, pregnancy, injury, etc.) clots that occur in the pelvis, thigh, and/or behind knee (DVT) or a PE.
Potential Factors of a Higher Risk for Future Clots (ClotConnect.org)
- Gender (men have a higher risk for recurrence than women)
- Presence of a strong clotting disorder
- Significant chronic leg swelling (post thrombotic syndrome)
- Positive D-dimer blood test obtained while on blood thinners
- Positive D-dimer blood test obtained 4 weeks after having come off blood thinners
- A lot of left-over (residual) clot on follow-up Doppler ultrasound examination of the leg.
- Strong family history of unprovoked DVT or PE.
- In addition, patients who had a PE more likely have a PE as a recurrence and have a higher risk of dying from the recurrent clot, compared to patients who “only” had a DVT.
A PE wreaks havoc on the body at the vascular level and creates micro-damage we can’t even always see – not to mention what we can and do see. In my case, my clot traveled through my veins, right lung and heart before lodging in the lobe of my lower left lung – that creates a lot of potential for damage to arterial pathways that just take time to heal. Even 14 months out from my hospitalization, I still have days where extreme fatigue, anxiety, pain, depression and listlessness consume me to the point of interfering with normal life. I imagine this is all still a part of recovery and I may eventually have to take steps to learn to manage these feelings in my everyday life. The emotional and psychological effects of a PE are all-too real, all-too debilitating and all-too ignored.
And while it may take you upwards of a year or more to start to feeling physically normal and participate in activities again, many people, including myself, are diagnosed with blood clotting conditions (such as antiphospholipid syndrome as in my case) which require lifelong monitoring and medication to try to prevent a recurrence of blood clots. While I consider myself far into recovery after a year or more, I will always have the possibility of another clot and the lifelong treatments that come with that. For me personally, a PE was not just something I got, healed from and now I can go about my life without having to worry about it on a daily basis, although that is the case for some patients.
So in answer to how long does it take to recover from a PE? One to two years, depending on your specific situation. Be sure to discuss recovery and possible setbacks with your doctor in order to be prepared to face what can be a long and seemingly overwhelming prognosis.
Share your story. Did your doctor answer how long does it take to recover from a PE? How long have you been recovering? Does the possibility of a long recovery scare you? Was your recovery shorter or longer than 1-2 years?
There is hope for healing and you are not alone,