WEST CHESTER, PA. (WPVI) -- Having a pulmonary embolism, - a blood clot in the lung - is a frightening experience.
Once a person has one, the fear of having another can become crippling.
However, newer medications and basic precautions can return life to near normal.
Robert Conti-D'Antonio and his wife have the travel bug and have traveled the world.
Returning from Tokyo five years ago, Robert didn't feel well.
Nothing showed on medical tests, but a few weeks later, he awoke with extreme pain in his ribs, and shortness of breath.
The diagnosis was a surprise.
"Pulmonary embolism, each lung," Robert recalls.
"I don't think we realized how serious it was until one of the doctors came in and said, yeah, you know, we have a lot of people die from this every week," he adds.
Robert was referred to Dr. Parth Rali, a specialist in thoracic medicine and surgery, and chief of the Pulmonary Embolism Response Team at the Temple Lung Center.
Dr. Rali says up to 80 percent of PEs start in the legs, growing for weeks or months till a piece breaks off -
"And that's what makes it a silent killer," notes Dr. Rali.
The immediate goal in treatment is to remove the clot and prevent a second one with blood thinners.
But patients also need thorough follow-up, to identify the factors behind the initial clot.
"I think smoking is a big risk. Undiagnosed malignancy. As I said 5-10% of patients who have a blood clot may have a malignancy down the road," says Dr. Rali.
Being overweight or obese is a common one.
So is recent surgery, and undiagnosed heart or lung problems.
"1 in 10, at least in my practice, have undiagnosed sleep apnea, and that sleep apnea itself may be contributing to a developing clot," notes Dr. Rali.
He says new-generation blood thinners have largely replaced Coumadin to prevent future clots.
Most don't need weekly monitoring or have food restrictions.
"They've shown they are better compared to Coumadin in terms of preventing a blood clot. And some of them are actually safer," says Dr. Rali.
With a low-dose blood thinner, compression socks, and in-flight exercises, Robert is still seeing the world.
"I just have a pattern of getting up every hour or so and walking around and doing my little calf exercises,"
Robert lost his brother to a blood clot two years ago, so he really sticks to his regimen, and follows up with his doctor regularly.