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Pulmonary Embolism

What is a Pulmonary Embolism?

A pulmonary embolism (PULL-mun-ary EM-bo-lizm) is a sudden blockage in a lung artery.

A pulmonary embolism is also called PE and Venous thromboembolism.

What Causes a Pulmonary Embolism?

A pulmonary embolism usually caused by a blood clot that traveled to the lung from the leg. A clot that forms in one part of the body and travels in the bloodstream to another part of the body is called an embolus.

In most cases, pulmonary embolism is a complication of a condition called deep vein thrombosis. In deep vein thrombosis, blood clots form in the deep veins of the body. These clots can break free, travel to the lung, and block an artery.

Blood Clots in the Leg

Blood clots can form in the leg when blood flow is restricted and slows down. This happens when you do not move around for long periods of time, such as:

  • After surgery.
  • During a long trip in a car or on an airplane.
  • If you must stay in bed for an extended time.
  • Veins damaged during or after surgery.
  • Rarely, an air bubble, part of a tumor, or other tissue travels to the lung and causes pulmonary embolism.

Complications of a Pulmonary Embolism

The most common complications of a pulmonary embolism are:

  • Permanent damage to part of your lung from lack of blood flow to lung tissue.
  • Low oxygen levels in your blood.
  • Damage to other organs in your body from not getting enough oxygen.
  • Death (if a clot is large, or if there are many clots).

What are the Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism?

The most common symptoms of a pulmonary embolism are:

  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Chest pain that gets worse with a deep breath, coughing, or chest movement
  • Coughing up blood
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Increased heart rate

Can Pulmonary Embolism be Treated?

A pulmonary embolism can be treated. Treatments are aimed to stop development of new clots and to keep the blood clot or clots lodged in the lungs from increasing in size.

Treatments depend on how severe the symptoms are. Common treatments include medication to thin the blood, surgery to remove a blood clot, and compression stockings to reduce risk of developing blood clots in the legs.

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