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 in an extremity such as the hands, arms, legs or feet include:

  • Coldness in the extremity
  • Decreased or absent pulse in the extremity
  • Muscle twitching, spasms or seizures
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness or tingling in arms or legs
  • Pale skin (pallor)

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, an embolism can be life threatening. If the embolism occurs in the lungs, it may cause a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. An embolism can also cause a heart attack or stroke. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms of pulmonary embolism including:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Fainting or change in level of consciousness or lethargy
  • Impaired balance and coordination
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Loss of vision or changes in vision
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea) or shortness of breath
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Severe or sudden headache
  • Sharp pain in the lungs
  • Sudden muscle weakness

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... Read more about embolismintroduction


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