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What Is a Saddle Embolism?

Walking during a plane flight is encouraged for people at risk of developing an embolism.
Seeking hospital treatment for symptoms of a saddle embolism can catch it before it causes death.
Saddle embolisms occur when blood clots blocks both sides of an arterial branch.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2014
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A saddle embolism is a clot that blocks both sides of an arterial branch. The classic example is a saddle pulmonary embolism that appears at the split of the pulmonary artery, blocking blood flow to the lungs by effectively plugging both branches of the pulmonary artery. This type of clot can be a life threatening medical issue, depending on where in the body it is located.

In the case of a saddle pulmonary embolism, the blood clot commonly leads to death before it is even diagnosed, and it is a common finding during necropsy of pulmonary embolism victims. Most commonly, the clot originates in the legs. Sometimes, a saddle embolism can be caused by a clot of fat or another material. It can lead to death very rapidly because the blockage of the blood flow to the lungs makes the patient highly unstable and if the embolus moves, it can completely cut off the supply of blood, leading to sudden death.

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This type of embolism can be caught before it causes death if a patient experiences a gradual onset of symptoms and goes to a hospital for treatment. The clot will be visible on a medical imaging study and immediate surgical treatment can be offered to clear it. Because the risks of pulmonary emboli are very serious, people with clotting disorders are given medications and carefully monitored for any signs of complications. Likewise, people at risk for clots, such as individuals sitting on long flights, are encouraged to take steps to avoid clotting, such as periodically exercising to circulate the blood in the legs or wearing support stockings to reduce blood pooling.

Saddle emboli can strike in locations other than the pulmonary artery. There are a number of sites in the body where a large artery splits into two or more branches to bring a supply of blood to another area of the body. At any one of these points, an embolus can become lodged. The clot cannot successfully clear because the branches are much narrower, and it can snag in the branch. The blood flow may be partially obstructed, moving sluggishly past the clot, or it can become completely blocked.

Treatments include catheterization procedures to pull the clot out, surgery, and medications to break up clots. Care providers must act quickly to identify and remove or break up clots to reduce the risk of severe complications for the patient.

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anon939534
Post 7

It is called a saddle because it takes on the shape of a saddle after branching between two arteries.

anon278476
Post 6

I was recently diagnosed with a saddle embolism. The doctor in the ER said I must have a lucky horseshoe up my bleep, because I came in to the ER when I did.

I spent five days in the hospital and was released with Lovanox injections and coumadin. What I need to know is, am I going to keel over dead even with these meds, or can I just resume my normal life which does include lifting a 60 pound handicapped little boy several times a day?

anon228671
Post 4

I'm 22 years old, and I was diagnosed with a saddle embolism in my lung in April. The doctors told me that they have no idea how I am alive. This blocked both sides. My right side was close to 95 percent blocked off and my left close to 75 percent. The doctors were amazed how I was even walking around the Mayo clinic for my appointment.

My surgeon told me that If I refused the surgery that my heart would go into cardiac arrest, or the clot would kill me. In July, I had open heart surgery to remove the clot, and it was a long process, but they were able to remove everything. I will be on "thinners" now for the rest of my life, and they still have no reasons why I developed one.

Now it's been almost four months since the surgery, and I feel like the shortness of breath is coming back.

anon218876
Post 3

I just spent five days in the hospital with one of these. The way it was explained to me, the clot lies across the split of the pulmonary artery in such a way that it resembles the look of a saddle. Hence, the name.

SailorJerry
Post 2

A saddle embolism, according to Wikipedia, is also called a straddling embolism because it straddles multiple branches. Their article is much shorter than this one and it doesn't say why it's called a saddle embolism. But I'm guessing it's because it lays over the branches the way a saddle would lay over the back of a horse.

dfoster85
Post 1

Medical terms are so vivid! "Saddle" doesn't sound like it would describe something so serious, when saddle pulmonary emboli are usually fatal. My favorite peculiar name is "Scottish terrier sign," when part of your spine looks like a Scotty dog under X-ray and the doc looks to see whether the dog appears to be wearing a a collar.

Why such a frivolous name for something so serious? Why's it called a saddle embolism?

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