What is pulmonary embolism?
Pulmonary embolism is
the sudden blockage of a major blood vessel (artery) in the lung, usually by a
blood clot . In most cases, the clots are small and are not deadly, but they
can damage the lung. But if the clot is large and stops blood flow to the lung,
it can be deadly. Quick treatment could save your life or reduce the risk of
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptoms
- Sudden shortness of breath.
Sharp chest pain that is worse when you cough or take a deep
- A cough that brings up pink, foamy mucus.
Pulmonary embolism can also cause more general symptoms.
For example, you may feel anxious or on edge, sweat a lot, feel lightheaded or
faint, or have a fast heart rate or
If you have symptoms like
these, you need to see a doctor right away, especially if they are sudden and
What causes pulmonary embolism?
In most cases,
pulmonary embolism is caused by a blood clot in the leg that breaks loose and
travels to the lungs. A blood clot in a vein close to the skin is not likely to
cause problems. But having blood clots in deep veins (deep vein thrombosis) can lead to pulmonary embolism. More than 300,000 people each year have deep vein thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism.1
can block an artery, such as tumors, air bubbles,
amniotic fluid, or fat that is released into the blood
vessels when a bone is broken. But these are rare.
What increases your risk of pulmonary embolism?
Anything that makes you more likely to form blood clots increases your
risk of pulmonary embolism. Some people are born with blood that clots too
quickly. Other things that can increase your risk include:
You are also at higher risk for blood clots if you are an
older adult (especially older than 70) or extremely overweight (obese).
How is pulmonary embolism diagnosed?
It may be
hard to diagnose pulmonary embolism, because the symptoms are like those of
many other problems, such as a
heart attack, a
panic attack, or
pneumonia. A doctor will start by doing a physical
exam and asking questions about your past health and your symptoms. This helps
the doctor decide if you are at high risk for pulmonary embolism.