Pulmonary Embolism

A blood clot in your lungs may have started in your legs.


Pulmonary embolism is a blockage in one or more pulmonary arteries of the lung. It is usually caused by a blood clot that travels from a vein deep in the leg (deep vein thrombosis) to the lung. This is a serious condition that can cause lung damage, low oxygen levels in the blood and damage to vital organs. If the clot is small and treated appropriately, you can recover from a pulmonary embolism. Very large clots or multiple clots can be life-threatening. Left untreated, approximately one-third of those with pulmonary embolism will not survive, but prompt diagnosis and treatment can save lives.

People who have had a pulmonary embolism have a 30% chance of another episode.

You are at higher risk for pulmonary embolism if you have heart disease, cancer or long periods of inactivity, such as confinement to bed after a surgery. To diagnose the condition, your doctor may order tests such as an ultrasound, blood tests, chest x-ray, pulmonary angiogram and MRI. Your treatment will focus on dissolving existing clots and preventing new ones from forming using medications such as blood thinners and clot busters. In the case of large clots, surgery may be required.

Symptoms may include:

Primary:
• Shortness of breath, worsening with exertion
• Chest pain, which may worsen when you breathe deeply or with exertion
• Cough with bloody or blood-streaked sputum

Secondary:
• Leg pain and/or swelling, usually in the calf
• Clammy or discolored skin
• Fever
• Excessive sweating
• Rapid or irregular heartbeat
• Lightheadedness or dizziness

Back to Top