CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The death of journalist David Bloom in Iraq has brought the public's attention to the dangers of pulmonary embolisms.
It often begins as a blood clot in the leg.
Experts said it is a warning sign that many patients and doctors miss.
Only a small percentage of blood clots beginning in the leg travel to the lung, but experts said there is still a risk.
Many patients who have had blood clots said they thought it was a pulled muscle or leg cramp.
Luli Gray said when her blood clot started she felt dizzy and short of breath, but waited four days to see a doctor.
"I finally got scared. I finally let myself get scared," she said.
Gray learned that she had a blood clot in her leg and it had traveled to her lungs.
"Patients often ignore the symptoms first and do not seek medical attention," said Dr. Stephan Moll of the University of North Carolina's Center for Thrombosis.
Symptoms of a blood clot include pain, swelling, and sometimes warmth in the leg.
Moll also said patients miss warnings signs sometimes, but so do doctors.
"There are many stories where patients do go to the physician, describe the symptoms and the physician says, 'This sounds like a muscle ache or charley horse. Take an aspirin and lets see what happens over the next few days,'" he said.
Gray said the first doctor she called dismissed her symptom descriptions.
With proper treatment, she was fortunately able to make a full recovery.
"I'm still glad I'm breathing. Breathing is good," she said. "I just really enjoy myself. I wake up every morning and I'm alive. And that's great."
Grey said she wishes she had known more about blood clots and pulmonary embolisms.
If she had, she said would have gone to the hospital sooner.
"I really did risk my life by postponing it for four days," said Grey.
Moll said the following groups are at higher risk for blood clots: