Pulmonary Embolism Symptoms Explained As Petra Mayer, NPR Books Editor, Dies at 46

Petra Mayer, the editor on NPR's Culture desk, died on Saturday at Holy Cross Hospital in Maryland as the result of a suspected pulmonary embolism. Nancy Barnes, NPR's senior vice president for news, announced the editor's death in an email to staff.

Mayer, 46, was a "proud nerd" renowned for her love of science fiction, comic books, and cats, fellow editor Meghan Sullivan, said.

The editor shared her love of these things with her audience via her reporting from Comic-Con and through the NPR's annual literary recommendation tool Book Concierge.

Los Angeles non-profit hospital Cedars Sinai explains that a pulmonary embolism happens when a blood clot in the body, usually the leg or the pelvic area, breaks away and travels to a lung artery where it then blocks the flow of blood.

When this happens it causes difficulty breathing and can cause damage to the lungs. If left untreated the condition can lead to death, with a mortality rate of 30 percent.

This drops to a mortality rate of 8 percent if diagnosed and treated promptly. Unfortunately, 10 percent of patients with acute onset pulmonary embolism die suddenly.

Because the fatality rate of pulmonary embolism is so high and death can occur rapidly, anyone experiencing symptoms, especially over a short period of time such as hours or days, is advised to urgently seek emergency medical treatment.

The most common symptom of a pulmonary embolism, according to Cedars Sinai, is shortness of breath. This is often accompanied by chest pain which gets worse with breathing, and a feeling of dizziness and lightheadedness or even fainting.

Sufferers may also experience an irregular heartbeat, palpitations as their heart races, and excessive sweating. They may also be subject to excess sweating and low blood pressure. Those experiencing pulmonary embolism may also cough up blood.

Pulmonary embolism may also be detected by the onset of symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, including pain in the affected leg that happens particularly while walking or standing, swelling in the affected leg, and redness and discolored skin.

Because many of these symptoms are common to multiple conditions, Cedars Sinai says that diagnosing pulmonary embolism can be difficult.

Current diagnosis methods include chest X-rays to assess the lungs and heart, a ventilation scan to determine the flow of air into and out of the lungs, and a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan, or an MRI, to produce a detailed image of the lungs.

A blood test can also be employed to check if a patient is experiencing a condition that can lead to excessive clotting.

The Los Angeles hospital says that treatment can include blood thinners which both prevent clots from growing and stop the formation of new clots.

If these anticoagulants can't be used and the blood clot has not yet made its way to the lungs or heart, doctors can insert a metal implant in the large blood vessel that returns blood from the body to the heart, the vena cava, to stop clots reaching the lungs.

In extreme cases, Cedars Sinai says that medicines called "clot busters" can be delivered directly to a clot to break it down.

Clots can also be broken down by the insertion of a long hollow tube called a catheter to their site guided by an X-ray. The catheter can be used to pull out the clot or deliver medicines directly to it.

Medical practitioners advise that the risk of pulmonary embolism can be reduced by regular exercise, avoiding smoking, a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Mayer's colleagues paid tributes to the editor following the news of her death.

Among them, host of the NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, on which she made frequent guest appearances, Glen Weldon, tweeted: "She was ferociously intelligent, sardonically funny and made your day better by merely existing. She was a passionate voice for genre content that NPR will miss like an ache.

"She was the best and rarest species of nerd, whose enthusiasm was eager and sincere and open and inviting. She wanted you to love the stuff she loved and supplied you hard incontrovertible evidence to support her thesis.

"She was the best of us."

Petra Mayer
An image of Petra Mayer taken at 'Meet The Authors' at Apple Store Soho on October 10, 2014 in New York City in which she shared the stage with Sci-fi alumni Gillian Anderson. Mayer passed away on Saturday as the result of a suspected pulmonary embolism. Noam Galai/WireImage/Getty