Heavy D Dies From Pulmonary Embolism: How Can You Prevent It?

The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office has ruled that Heavy D, the influential 44-year-old rapper who died on Nov. 8, was killed by a pulmonary embolism, according to multiple news reports.

ABC News reported that the pulmonary embolism was likely linked with a long flight that Heavy D (whose real name is Dwight Arrington Myers) had just taken from London to Los Angeles.

TMZ reported that the coroner's office also said that Heavy D's heart disease may have factored into his death.

Pulmonary embolism is another term for a blockage in the arteries of the lungs, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Many times, the embolism is caused by blood clots that travel up to the lungs from another part of the body, like the legs (which is called deep vein thrombosis), according to the National Institutes of Health. Often, a pulmonary embolism causes low blood oxygen levels, organ damage because of lack of oxygen and damage to the lung, though death can also occur as a result.

Being immobile for long periods of time is a known risk factor for pulmonary embolism -- like being bedridden for a long while, or having to sit down for a long car ride or plane trip without moving your legs, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The Mayo Clinic explains:

Sitting in a cramped position during lengthy plane or car trips slows the current of blood flow in your veins, which contributes to the formation of clots in your legs.

In 2001, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study looking at the relationship between the distance a person flies during air travel and the risk of pulmonary embolism. Researchers in that study looked at all pulmonary embolism cases documented between 1993 and 2000. In their analysis of 135.29 million passengers who had arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport during that time period, they found that 56 of them had suffered a pulmonary embolism.

The researchers found that for every million people traveling 10,000 kilometers (or 6,200 miles), there were 4.8 cases of pulmonary embolism.

Researchers wrote: "A greater distance traveled is a significant contributing risk factor for pulmonary embolism associated with air travel."

Other risk factors for developing blood clots include being older and being dehydrated or having a valve malfunction (which contributes to clot formation), as well as having a family history of blood clots, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The main signs a person is suffering from a pulmonary embolism is shortness of breath, breathing problems, coughing (or coughing up blood), chest pain and possibly even irregular heartbeat, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Signs of deep vein thrombosis include leg swelling, leg pain or tenderness, warmth in the affected leg and discolored skin.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 30 percent of untreated people with a pulmonary embolism will die (most die within a few hours of suffering the embolism). However, quick action to treat the embolism can save lives. Anticoagulants, which are blood thinners, and other drugs can help stop clots from forming and can stop already-formed clots from getting any bigger.

If for some reason a person isn't able to take a drug to treat the embolism, vena cava filters -- which stop blood clots from going to the lungs -- can also be inserted into the vein, the National Institutes of Health reported.

Earlier this year, tennis star Serena Williams was hospitalized because of a pulmonary embolism, Fox News reported. She had recently undergone surgery on her foot; Fox News reported that the surgery might be linked with a blood clot that then traveled up to her lungs to cause the pulmonary embolism.

For tips on preventing a pulmonary embolism from occurring during your next long-haul flight or car ride, the Mayo Clinic offers these tips:

pulmonary embolism prevention