Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism, and When to Call the Doctor

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on December 06, 2020

When an artery in your lung gets blocked by a blood clot, you have a pulmonary embolism (PE).

Symptoms can vary. What you experience will likely depend on the size of the clot and how much of your lung it affects. If you have lung or heart disease, that can play a role, too.

PE Is a Medical Emergency

Symptoms of PE tend to come on suddenly. Call 911 if you have any of the following:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Cough (it may be bloody, and there might be blood in the gunk you cough up)
  • Sudden pain in your back
  • Much more sweating than usual
  • A lightheaded feeling, or passing out
  • Blue lips or nails

Warning Signs of Deep Vein Thrombosis

When a clot forms in a deep vein in your legs, it’s called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If it breaks off and travels to your lung, it becomes a PE.

See your doctor right away if you have any of the symptoms of DVT. If it’s found early, doctors can stop it from becoming a pulmonary embolism. Signs of DVT include:

  • Swelling of a leg or arm
  • Leg pain or tenderness when you’re standing or walking
  • A swollen leg or arm that feels warmer than normal
  • Red or discolored skin in the affected arm or leg
  • Veins in your arm or leg that are larger than normal
WebMD Medical Reference


Mayo Clinic: “Pulmonary embolism.”

Society for Vascular Surgery: “Pulmonary Embolism.”

CDC: “Venous Thromboembolism (Blood Clots).”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “What is Pulmonary Embolism?”

Society of Interventional Radiology: “Deep Vein Thrombosis.”

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