Pulmonary Embolism

What is Pulmonary Embolism?

A Pulmonary Embolism is a blood clot in one of your lungs’ pulmonary arteries. Most of the time, the clot does not form in the lung but travels there from the leg or another part of the body. Once the clot gets wedged into a pulmonary artery, it can block all blood flow and cause the portion of lung that is cut off to die.

Depending on the severity of the blockage and how much of the lung is without blood, a pulmonary embolism can be life threatening and requires emergency medical assistance.

People with heart disease and some types of cancer may be more likely to form the types of clots that can travel to the lungs. Other causes include being immobile for long periods of time, such as on bed rest or even sitting down on a long flight. Surgeries can cause blood clots to form as well, so many surgical patients are given a blood thinner to prevent issues. Smoking, carrying excess weight and taking birth control medications can also increase your risk of developing a blood clot that can travel to the lung.

What are the Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism?

Most cases of pulmonary embolism include breathing difficulties. Shortness of breath is a key symptom. You may also experience coughing and wheezing, and chest pain.

You may develop a blue tint to their skin from lack of oxygen, and have sweating, dizziness and lightheadedness. A rapid or inconsistent heart rate can also occur.

How is Pulmonary Embolism Treated?

Emergency treatment to remove a clot can involve giving clot-dissolving medications called thrombolytics, or surgery, where a catheter is inserted into the artery and positioned to move or break up the clot. In less serious cases, your doctor may prescribe blood thinners to break up the clots and reduce the risk of more clots forming.

Once you have been diagnosed with pulmonary embolism, your doctor may want to run additional tests to ensure you don’t develop additional blockages. You may be advised to eat a healthy diet, quit smoking, exercise regularly and wear compression socks that improve blood flow in your legs.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
August 24, 2017