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Fat Embolism: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis and Treatment

Aug 30, 2023

Fat Embolism: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis and Treatment

The disease known as "fat embolism " occurs when fat particles enter the bloodstream and obstruct blood flow. You can experience blockages in your skin, lungs, brain, and other organs. Although this disease is uncommon and typically not serious, but it can be deadly if it becomes severe.

Anyone can experience a fat embolism, however, children are very rarely affected by it. The long bones in your body, such as the pelvis, which makes up your hips, are the ones that are most likely to break and cause this disease.

Causes Of Fat Embolism

When one or more fat droplet-like particles enter your bloodstream and obstruct blood flow through some of your blood vessels, this is known as a fat embolism. Every time you break a bone, fat emboli (the word for more than one) form, but they're often too small to create any blockages. 

After breaking particular bones, fat emboli are significantly more prone to become problematic. The femur (thighbone), tibia (shinbone), and fibula (which runs behind the tibia) bones in the legs account for approximately 95% of all instances involving fractures of the pelvic or long bones in the body.

The majority of the time, the fat molecules in your bloodstream can become lodged in the capillaries, which are tiny blood vessels located close to the surface of your skin, leading to a rash and other minor symptoms. Fat emboli can also harm tiny blood vessels in vital organs like your heart, brain, eyes, or lungs, leading to serious and sometimes fatal issues.

For a clinician to identify this ailment, three distinct symptoms are often required (although a diagnosis is still feasible without all three). These include side effects on your brain and lungs as well as a characteristic skin rash.

Symptoms Of Fat Embolism

In most cases, fat embolism syndrome develops 2 to 3 days after a significant bone break or other trauma. However, it can occur as soon as 12 hours following a wound. The following are some of the primary symptoms:

  • Breathing difficulties. With fat embolism syndrome, breathing difficulties or rapid breathing are frequent symptoms. Usually, these symptoms appear before others.
  • The human mind evolves. Fat embolism syndrome can alter the way your brain functions, leading to migraines, disorientation, personality changes, and delayed or absentminded reflexes.
  • Peterson's rash. Petechiae are tiny skin lesions that resemble bruises. They develop when tiny blood vessels known as capillaries that are located just below the surface of your skin burst or break.

Your head, neck, chest, and arms are the typical locations for these spots to form. They can also appear on the inside of your lips and on the inside of your eyelids.

Additional signs that could exist include:

  • Tachycardia
  • Fever
  • Jaundice (a liver ailment that causes the skin or the whites of your eyes to turn yellow)
  • Vision changes

The following clinical indicators may also be examined by doctors. Diagnostic and laboratory testing can detect the following modifications, but you cannot feel them as symptoms:

  • Low saturation of oxygen in the blood
  • Anaemia
  • Issues with the kidneys
  • Vision issues
  • Low platelet count

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Risk Factors For Fat Embolism

Rarely, this syndrome might also be brought on by other ailment or event. Several instances include:

Diagnosis Of Fat Embolism

There isn't yet a single, acknowledged method for diagnosing this illness. Because of this, medical professionals base their diagnosis on your symptoms, a physical examination, diagnostic tests, and lab results.

During the physical examination, the doctor will examine your body for any indications of probable illnesses. Additionally, they might use a stethoscope to listen to your heart and respiration.

Breathing difficulties, changes in mental status, and petechial rash are the three primary symptoms of this illness, and they all have typical outward manifestations. The diagnosis of this ailment can often be made based solely on a physical examination, especially in more severe cases.

Any of the following tests may be used to detect this condition.

  • X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs of your head or chest may be performed by medical professionals as part of imaging studies. These are probably there because doctors will seek to rule out potentially fatal conditions like pulmonary embolism or stroke. The scans can support the diagnosis of fat embolism syndrome by helping to rule out such illnesses.
  • When the symptoms of fat embolism syndrome impact your heart, diagnostic testing may be necessary. An EKG, a test that gauges the electrical activity of your heart, or a skin biopsy to check for indications that fat particles are obstructing capillaries in your skin are two examples.
  • Lab tests: These tests will check your blood chemistry for significant changes and search for fat particles in your blood, urine, or sputum (coughing up mucus).

Treatment Of Fat Embolism

There is no known treatment for fat embolism syndrome and there is no cure for the disorder. Medication, life-supporting technology, and procedures to stop future complications can all be used as therapies for fat embolism syndrome.

The provision of supportive care is the main objective of this disease. This means that instead of addressing the actual ailment, healthcare professionals concentrate on managing its symptoms and side effects.

What drugs or therapies are applied?

The following are potential therapies for fat embolism syndrome:

  • Corticosteroids. These drugs help your body's inflammation. They are frequently prescribed by doctors to treat inflammation, support your lungs, and facilitate breathing. To determine whether this should be a recommended course of treatment for this illness, more research is required.
  • Blood-thinning medications. These can prevent blood clots from forming that could occur from the fat embolism syndrome. However, there isn't enough evidence to suggest using them in every case of fat embolism syndrome.
  • Filters for the vena cava. Medical practitioners can implant these items into your veins and place them there. When blood clots enter the vena cava, the body's principal vein that carries blood to the heart, they are caught by these filters before they can lodge in your lungs. By doing this, it is possible to prevent pulmonary embolisms and the respiratory effects of fat embolism syndrome.
  • Oxygen. Any type of respiratory issue can be treated quickly and easily with this method. By increasing the amount of oxygen reaching your body, your heart, and lungs won't have to work as hard to supply your body with enough oxygen.
  • ECMO stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) involves drawing blood from the patient and passing it through a series of specialized machines that remove carbon dioxide and provide oxygen. After that, the blood returns to your body. When you experience significant breathing issues as a result of fat embolism syndrome, this therapy can assist in giving your lungs a break so they can recuperate.
  • Ventilation. A ventilator is a machine that performs breathing tasks for you. It's a typical component of care for those with severe, life-threatening respiratory issues. The first step in this procedure is intubation, which entails placing a tube down the windpipe and connecting it to a ventilator. For your comfort during this procedure, you are typically given sedation.

Complications Of Treatment Of Fat Embolism 

Usually, there are no immediate consequences associated with fat embolism syndrome. However, severe cases can have an impact on your brain, eyes, or lungs in the long run. The majority of people, nevertheless, will go on to totally recover.

Concerning the potential and anticipated consequences or side effects in your situation, ask your healthcare professional. Because they can adjust the material to your particular requirements and circumstances, they are the best source of knowledge.

According to some research, having fat embolism syndrome can increase your risk of developing conditions like deep vein thrombosis or long-term brain damage. That proof isn't conclusive, though, and more investigation will be required to ascertain whether this is the case.

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