What is a pulmonary embolism?

A pulmonary embolism is a blockage in one of the arteries of the lungs. It is caused when a piece of a blood clot located elsewhere in the body breaks off and travels through the bloodstream and lodges in one of the arteries that supply the lungs. A pulmonary embolism may be serious and life threatening. Each year, more than 100,000 cases of pulmonary embolism occur in the United States (Source: NHLBI).

Breathing Problems Spotlight

Deep vein thrombosis is the primary cause of pulmonary embolism. In deep vein thrombosis, blood clots form in the large veins of the legs. A blood clot may break free in a leg vein and travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, where it can cause symptoms by blocking an artery.

Symptoms of pulmonary embolism vary greatly, depending on the severity of the embolism. Some individuals with pulmonary embolism have no symptoms, or they experience only symptoms associated with deep vein thrombosis in the legs.

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

In some cases, a pulmonary embolism may be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as chest pain, sweating, or severe difficulty breathing, which may be combined with leg pain or swelling and sharp pain in the lungs.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of pulmonary embolism?

Many of the symptoms of pulmonary embolism are the result of difficulty breathing or deep vein thrombosis. At times, any of these pulmonary embolism symptoms can be severe. It is possible to have a pulmonary embolism without any symptoms.... Read more about pulmonary embolismsymptoms

CAUSES

What causes pulmonary embolism?

A pulmonary embolism is a blockage in one of the arteries of the lungs. The blockage is usually caused by a blood clot, but other, less common causes exist. Blockage of an artery in the lung restricts blood flow to a portion of the lung.... Read more about pulmonary embolismcauses

TREATMENTS

How is pulmonary embolism treated?

Treatment of pulmonary embolism varies greatly depending on the severity of the embolism. Medications are used to control the formation and growth of blood clots and restore blood flow to the lungs. Oxygen may be administered through a face mask, prongs (tiny plastic tubes) in the nostrils, or a breathing tube. More invasive procedures may be required in severe or life-threatening cases of pulmonary embolism, or if the blood clot is very large.... Read more about pulmonary embolismtreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 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.

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