Pulmonary Embolism

Pulmonary embolism, a severe and life-threatening condition, is caused when the pulmonary artery is blocked by foreign matter such as a blood clot (thrombus), fat, air or tumor tissue. Although there are common symptoms, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

Signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism may be similar to those of a heart attack or a lung disorder such as pneumonia. A doctor must be seen immediately. Common symptoms include sudden chest pain, excessive perspiring, shock, cyanosis (bluish skin color), anxiety and loss of consciousness. Conditions that may contribute to pulmonary embolism include extended bed rest, surgery, cancer, paralysis and aging.

Pulmonary embolism is difficult to diagnose. Non-invasive tests cannot be used in the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism. The physician must often eliminate the possibility of other lung diseases before determining that the condition is pulmonary embolism. A test called V/Q scan – a nuclear ventilation-perfusion study of the lungs – may be used, as well as a pulmonary angiography. New diagnostic methods are under investigation.

The immediate treatment for pulmonary embolism is anticoagulant therapy to dissolve the clot and return blood flow. Oxygen and sedatives may also be used to make the patient comfortable. Surgery to remove the embolism may also be performed.


Signs, symptoms & indicators of Pulmonary Embolism

Symptoms - Metabolic  

Having a slight/having a moderate/having a high fever

Symptoms - Respiratory  

Chest pain when breathing


Sudden shortness of breath

The most important symptom of pulmonary embolism is breathlessness, which often occurs suddenly and for which there is no other explanation.


Recent/chronic productive cough

Cough that begins suddenly, sometimes mixed with blood-streaked sputum, is a frequently-seen symptom of pulmonary embolism.

Risk factors for Pulmonary Embolism


Anemia, Hemolytic

Sickle cell disease increases the risk of pulmonary embolism.

Organ Health  




Weak or unproven link
Strong or generally accepted link



Pertaining to the lungs.


Obstruction of a vessel by an abnormal body, usually a detached blood clot.


Apprehension of danger, or dread, accompanied by nervous restlessness, tension, increased heart rate, and shortness of breath unrelated to a clearly identifiable stimulus.


Refers to the various types of malignant neoplasms that contain cells growing out of control and invading adjacent tissues, which may metastasize to distant tissues.


A substance that prevents or delays blood clots (coagulation).

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