Pulmonary embolism (patient information)

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Pulmonary embolism


What are the symptoms?

What are the causes?

Who is at highest risk?

When to seek urgent medical care?


Treatment options

Where to find medical care for Pulmonary embolism?

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Possible complications

Pulmonary embolism On the Web

Ongoing Trials at Clinical Trials.gov

Images of Pulmonary embolism

Videos on Pulmonary embolism

FDA on Pulmonary embolism

CDC on Pulmonary embolism

Pulmonary embolism in the news

Blogs on Pulmonary embolism

Directions to Hospitals Treating Pulmonary embolism

Risk calculators and risk factors for Pulmonary embolism

For the WikiDoc page for this topic, click here

Editors-in-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D.; The APEX Trial Investigators


Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a sudden blockage in an artery within the lungs. The blockage usually is caused by a blood clot that travels to the lung from a vein in the leg. This clot blocks blood flow to part of the lung, and if the clot is large or if there are numerous clots, it may be fatal.

What are the symptoms of pulmonary embolism?

Signs and symptoms vary from person to person. However, the common symptoms are:

  • Chest Pain
    • Under the breastbone or towards one side
    • May feel sharp or stabbing
    • May also be described as a burning, aching, or dull, heavy sensation
    • May get worse with deep breathing, coughing, eating, or bending
    • May cause you to bend over and hold your chest due to the pain

Other symptoms that may occur are:

What causes a pulmonary embolism?

A pulmonary embolism is most often caused by a blood clot in a vein in the leg or in the pelvis (hip area), which breaks off and travels to block an artery in the lung. The most common cause is a blood clot in a deep vein of the thighs. This type of clot is called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Less common causes of a pulmonary embolism include air bubbles, fat droplets, amniotic fluid, parasites or tumor cells, all of which may lead to a blockage of an artery in the lung.

Risk factors for a pulmonary embolism include:

People with certain clotting disorders also have a higher risk for developing a pulmonary embolism.

Who is at highest risk?

Certain conditions carry a significantly increased risk of pulmonary embolism. These conditions are:

When to seek urgent medical care?

Pulmonary embolism can be potentially life threatening and one should seek medical care when suffering from symptoms of Pulmonary embolism such as severe sharp chest pain, shortness of breath, blood in sputum, and a raised heart rate.


The various methods used to diagnose a pulmonary embolism are:

Treatment options

A pulmonary embolism requires emergency medical treatment and consequently you will have to stay in the hospital and will also recieve oxygen.In cases of severe, life-threatening pulmonary embolism, treatment may involve dissolving the clot with the use of medications called thrombolytic therapy. Clot-dissolving medications include:

Blood thinners are given to prevent further clots. This is called anticoagulation therapy.

Heparin or heparin-type drugs are usually tried first. They can be given through a vein (by IV) or by injection under the skin.

Warfarin is later given in pill form. When you first start taking warfarin, you will need frequent blood tests. This will help your doctor properly adjust your dose. You will likely need to take warfarin for several months.

  • Patients who have reactions to heparin or related medications may need other medications.
  • Patients who cannot tolerate blood thinners or for whom they may be too risky may need a device called an inferior vena cava filter (IVC filter). This device is placed in a main vein in the abdominal area. It keeps large clots from traveling into the blood vessels of the lungs. Sometimes a temporary filter can be placed and removed later.

Other medications to treat a pulmonary embolism may include:

Medications to avoid

Patients diagnosed with Pulmonary embolism should avoid using the following medications:

Where to find medical care for pulmonary embolism?

Directions to Hospitals Treating Pulmonary embolism

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

It is hard to predict the outlook of a person recovering from a pulmonary embolism. It will depend on the cause of the initial problem, such as cancer, major surgery, or an injury.

Death is possible in people with a severe pulmonary embolism.

Possible complications

It is a potentially lethal condition if the main arteries of the lungs blocked . If left untreated, about 30 percent of patients die. Most of those who die, do so within the first few hours of the event.

Other possible complications:

Support Group

Members of a support group provide each other with various types peer help to fellow pulmonary embolism patients. The help may take the form of providing relevant and helpful information, relating to each others personal experiences, providing sympathetic understanding, and establishing social networks. A support group may also provide ancillary support, such as serving as a voice for the public or engaging in advocacy. To read more about PE Support group, click here.





Below video demonstrate how a clot from leg can travel up to lungs and cause Pulmonary embolism.