What Is Pulmonary Embolism ?
A pulmonary embolism (PULL-mun-ary EM-bo-lizm), or PE, is a sudden blockage in a lung artery. The blockage usually is due to a blood clot that traveled to the lung from a vein in the leg.
A clot that forms in one part of the body and travels in the bloodstream to another part of the body is called an embolus (EM-bo-lus).
PE Is A Serious Condition That Can Cause:
- Permanent damage to part of your lung from lack of blood flow to lung tissue
- Low oxygen levels in your blood
- Damage to other organs in your body from not getting enough oxygen
If a blood clot is large, or if there are many clots, PE can cause death.
In 9 out of 10 cases, pulmonary embolism (PE) begins as a blood clot in the deep veins of the leg (a condition known as deep vein thrombosis). The clot breaks free from the vein and travels through the bloodstream to the lungs, where it can block an artery.
The animation below shows how a blood clot from a deep vein in the leg can travel to the lungs, causing pulmonary embolism. Click the "start" button to play the animation. Written and spoken explanations are provided with each frame. Use the buttons in the lower right corner to pause, restart, or replay the animation, or use the scroll bar below the buttons to move through the frames.
Who Is At Risk for Pulmonary Embolism ?
Pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs equally in men and women. Risk increases with age. For every 10 years after age 60, the risk of PE doubles.
Certain inherited conditions, such as factor V Leiden, increase the risk of blood clotting and, therefore, the risk of PE.
Major Risk Factors
People at high risk for PE are those who:
- Have deep vein thrombosis (DVT, a blood clot in the leg) or a history of DVT
- Have had PE before
Signs And Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism (PE) include unexplained shortness of breath, problems breathing, chest pain, coughing, or coughing up blood. An arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) also may indicate PE.
In some cases, the only signs and symptoms are related to deep vein thrombosis (DVT). These include swelling of the leg or along the vein in the leg, pain or tenderness in the leg, a feeling of increased warmth in the area of the leg that's swollen or tender, and red or discolored skin on the affected leg. See your doctor at once if you have any symptoms of PE or DVT.
How Is Pulmonary Embolism Treated ?
Pulmonary embolism (PE) is treated with medicines, procedures, and other therapies. The main goals of treating PE are to stop the blood clot from getting bigger and keep new clots from forming.
Treatment may include medicines to thin the blood and slow its ability to clot. If your symptoms are life threatening, your doctor may give you medicine to dissolve the clot more quickly. Rarely, your doctor may use surgery or another procedure to remove the clot.
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