What is an embolism?

An embolism, also called thromboembolism, is a blockage in one of the arteries of the body due to a blood clot that has broken off from another location in the body (embolus) and traveled through the bloodstream to lodge in a small blood vessel. The blockage may limit or stop blood flow. An embolism may be serious and life threatening.

Deep vein thrombosis is the primary cause of embolism. In deep vein thrombosis, blood clots form in the large veins of the legs. Sometimes a blood clot breaks free and is carried through the bloodstream. It may then cause an embolism by blocking an artery in the lungs, brain, or other organs.

Symptoms of embolism vary greatly depending on the severity and location of the embolism. Some individuals with embolism have no symptoms. An embolism in the lungs is called a pulmonary embolism. An embolism in the brain can cause a stroke. An embolism in the coronary vessels that supply the heart can cause a heart attack.

Treatment of embolism aims to dissolve, remove, or limit the growth of the blood clot, and prevent the formation of future emboli. This may be achieved through medication, minimally invasive procedures, or, rarely, surgery.

An embolism may be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as altered vision, chest pain, fainting, palpitations, sweating, or severe difficulty breathing, or if you think you may be having a heart attack or stroke.


What are the symptoms of an embolism?

Symptoms of an embolism vary with the severity and location of the embolism. It is possible to have an embolism without any symptoms.

At times, any of these embolism symptoms can be severe and may indicate a life-threatening condition, such as pulmonary embolism, heart attack, or stroke.

Symptoms of an embolism in the arms or legs

Symptoms of an embolism i... Read more about embolismsymptoms


What causes an embolism?

An embolism is a blockage in one of the arteries of the body due to a circulating blood clot. Blockage of an artery may restrict blood flow to a limb, the lung or another organ.

Primary cause of embolism

The primary cause of embolism is deep vein thrombosis, a condition in which blood clots form in the large veins of the lower extremities, such as in the thigh or low... Read more about embolismcauses


How is an embolism treated?

Treatment of an embolism varies greatly depending on its severity. The underlying cause of the embolism should be identified and treated promptly. Medications are used to control the formation and growth of blood clots and to restore blood flow to the affected area of the body. More invasive procedures may be required in severe or life-threatening cases of embolism, or if the blood clot is very... Read more about embolismtreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Heart, Blood and Circulation