Learn About Pulmonary Embolism

What is the definition of Pulmonary Embolism?

A pulmonary embolus is a blockage of an artery in the lungs. The most common cause of the blockage is a blood clot.

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What are the alternative names for Pulmonary Embolism?

Venous thromboembolism; Lung blood clot; Blood clot - lung; Embolus; Tumor embolus; Embolism - pulmonary; DVT - pulmonary embolism; Thrombosis - pulmonary embolism; Pulmonary thromboembolism; PE

What are the causes of Pulmonary Embolism?

A pulmonary embolus is most often caused by a blood clot that develops in a vein outside the lungs. The most common blood clot is one in a deep vein of the thigh or in the pelvis (hip area). This type of clot is called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The blood clot breaks off and travels to the lungs where it lodges.

Less common causes include air bubbles, fat droplets, amniotic fluid, or clumps of parasites or tumor cells.

You are more likely to get this condition if you or your family has a history of blood clots or certain clotting disorders. A pulmonary embolus may occur:

  • After childbirth
  • After heart attack, heart surgery, or stroke
  • After severe injuries, burns, or fractures of the hips or thigh bone
  • After surgery, most commonly bone, joint, or brain surgery
  • During or after a long plane or car ride
  • If you have cancer
  • If you take birth control pills or estrogen therapy
  • Long-term bed rest or staying in one position for a long time

Disorders that may lead to blood clots include:

  • Diseases of the immune system that make it harder for the blood to clot.
  • Inherited disorders that make the blood more likely to clot. One such disorder is antithrombin III deficiency.
What are the symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism?

Main symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include chest pain that may be any of the following:

  • Under the breastbone or on one side
  • Sharp or stabbing
  • Burning, aching, or a dull, heavy sensation
  • Often gets worse with deep breathing
  • You may bend over or hold your chest in response to the pain

Other symptoms may include:

  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Low oxygen level in blood (hypoxemia)
  • Fast breathing or wheezing
  • Fast heart rate
  • Feeling anxious
  • Leg pain, redness, or swelling
  • Low blood pressure
  • Sudden cough, possibly coughing up blood or bloody mucus
  • Shortness of breath that starts suddenly during sleep or on exertion
  • Low grade fever
  • Bluish skin (cyanosis) -- less common
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What are the current treatments for Pulmonary Embolism?

A pulmonary embolus requires treatment right away. You may need to stay in the hospital:

  • You will receive medicines to thin the blood and make it less likely your blood will form more clots.
  • In cases of severe, life-threatening pulmonary embolism, treatment may involve dissolving the clot. This is called thrombolytic therapy. You will receive medicines to dissolve the clot.

Whether or not you need to stay in the hospital, you will likely need to take medicines at home to thin the blood:

  • You may be given pills to take or you may need to give yourself injections.
  • For some medicines, you will need blood tests to monitor your dosage.
  • How long you need to take these medicines depends mostly on the cause of your blood clot.
  • Your provider will talk to you about the risk of bleeding problems when you take these medicines.

If you cannot take blood thinners, your provider may suggest surgery to place a device called an inferior vena cava filter (IVC filter). This device is placed in the main vein in your belly. It keeps large clots from traveling into the blood vessels of the lungs. Sometimes, a temporary filter can be placed and removed later.

Who are the top Pulmonary Embolism Local Doctors?
Highly rated in
Interventional Cardiology

Loyola University Health System

Amir Darki MD

2900 N Lake Shore Dr 
Chicago, IL 60657

Amir Darki is an Interventional Cardiologist and a Cardiologist in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Darki has been practicing medicine for over 18 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Pulmonary Embolism. He is also highly rated in 22 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Pulmonary Embolism, Coronary Heart Disease, Angina, and Atherosclerosis. He is licensed to treat patients in Illinois. Dr. Darki is currently accepting new patients.

Highly rated in

University Medical Center Mainz

Mainz, RP, DE 

Mareike Lankeit is in Mainz, Germany. Lankeit is rated as an Elite expert by MediFind in the treatment of Pulmonary Embolism. She is also highly rated in 6 other conditions, according to our data. Her top areas of expertise are Pulmonary Embolism, Pulmonary Hypertension, Mesenteric Venous Thrombosis, and Hypertension.

Learn about our expert tiers
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Highly rated in

Université Jean Monnet

Saint-etienne-de-valoux, FR 42055

Laurent Bertoletti is in Saint-etienne-de-valoux, France. Bertoletti is rated as an Elite expert by MediFind in the treatment of Pulmonary Embolism. He is also highly rated in 7 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Pulmonary Embolism, Venous Thromboembolism VTE, Mesenteric Venous Thrombosis, and Pulmonary Hypertension.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Pulmonary Embolism?

How well a person recovers from a pulmonary embolus can be hard to predict. It often depends on:

  • What caused the problem in the first place (for example, cancer, major surgery, or an injury)
  • The size of the blood clot in the lungs
  • If the blood clot dissolves over time

Some people can develop long-term heart and lung problems.

Death is possible in people with a severe pulmonary embolism.

When should I contact a medical professional for Pulmonary Embolism?

Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911), if you have symptoms of pulmonary embolus.

How do I prevent Pulmonary Embolism?

Blood thinners may be prescribed to help prevent DVT in people at high risk, or those who are undergoing high-risk surgery.

If you had a DVT, your provider will prescribe pressure stockings. Wear them as instructed. They will improve blood flow in your legs and reduce your risk for blood clots.

Moving your legs often during long plane trips, car trips, and other situations in which you are sitting or lying down for long periods can also help prevent DVT. People at very high risk for blood clots may need shots of a blood thinner called heparin when they take a flight that lasts longer than 4 hours.

Do not smoke. If you smoke, quit. Women who are taking estrogen must stop smoking. Smoking increases your risk of developing blood clots.

Respiratory system
Pulmonary embolus
What are the latest Pulmonary Embolism Clinical Trials?
Pulmonary Rehabilitation to Improve Physical Capacity After Pulmonary Embolism - a Randomized Controlled Trial - The REHAB Study
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Predicting and Preventing Poor Outcomes of Venous Thromboembolism in Children
What are the Latest Advances for Pulmonary Embolism?
Study on the clinical efficacy of bone-filled mesh vertebroplasty combined with posterior screw and rod internal fixation in the treatment of thoracolumbar metastases: a retrospective cohort study.
Pulmonary embolism in patients with cancer: An updated and operative guide for diagnosis and management.
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Intensive-Dose Tinzaparin in Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients: The INTERACT Study.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date: October 28, 2021
Published By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Davidson BL, Elliott CG. Pulmonary thromboembolism: prophylaxis and treatment. In: Broaddus VC, Ernst JD, King TE, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 82.

Goldhaber SZ, Piazza G. Pulmonary embolism. In: Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Bhatt DL, Solomon SD, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 87.

Kline JA. Pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 78.

Morris TA, Rose A. Pulmonary thromboembolism: presentation and diagnosis. In: Broaddus VC, Ernst JD, King TE, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 81.