Fat embolism syndrome history and symptoms

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Feham Tariq, MD [2]


A detailed history and early detection of symptoms is vital for the diagnosis of fat embolism (FES). It is entirely a clinical diagnosis. Patients with fat embolism may have a positive history of long bone fracture, orthopedic procedure, plastic surgical procedure or parenteral lipid transfusion. The symptoms may take 24-48 hours to become apparent and can be categorized as pulmonary, neurological and cutaneous symptoms.

History and Symptoms


Patients with fat embolism may have a positive history of:[1][2][3][4][5]


It usually takes 24-48 hours after the injury for the physical symptoms to become apparent. The symptoms of fat embolism syndrome can be divided into four categories:[6][7][8]

Pulmonary symptoms:

Neurological symptoms:

Cutaneous symptoms:

General symptoms:


  1. Johnson MJ, Lucas GL (1996). "Fat embolism syndrome". Orthopedics. 19 (1): 41–8, discussion 48-9. PMID 8771112.
  2. Mellor A, Soni N (2001). "Fat embolism". Anaesthesia. 56 (2): 145–54. PMID 11167474.
  3. van den Brand JG, van der Hoeven JH, Olsman JG (2000). "[Dyspnea or confusion after trauma? Consider fat embolism syndrome]". Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 144 (32): 1513–7. PMID 10949632.
  4. Gurd AR, Wilson RI (1974). "The fat embolism syndrome". J Bone Joint Surg Br. 56B (3): 408–16. PMID 4547466.
  5. Peltier LF (1971). "The diagnosis and treatment of fat embolism". J Trauma. 11 (8): 661–7. PMID 4998402.
  6. Bulger EM, Smith DG, Maier RV, Jurkovich GJ (1997). "Fat embolism syndrome. A 10-year review". Arch Surg. 132 (4): 435–9. PMID 9108767.
  7. Jacobson DM, Terrence CF, Reinmuth OM (1986). "The neurologic manifestations of fat embolism". Neurology. 36 (6): 847–51. PMID 3703294.
  8. Thomas JE, Ayyar DR (1972). "Systemic fat embolism. A diagnostic profile in 24 patients". Arch Neurol. 26 (6): 517–23. PMID 5030787.
  9. Scopa M, Magatti M, Rossitto P (1994). "Neurologic symptoms in fat embolism syndrome: case report". J Trauma. 36 (6): 906–8. PMID 8015021.
  10. Bardana D, Rudan J, Cervenko F, Smith R (1998). "Fat embolism syndrome in a patient demonstrating only neurologic symptoms". Can J Surg. 41 (5): 398–402. PMC 3949781. PMID 9793509.