What is a Pulmonary Embolism?

It is a sudden blockage of a major artery in the lung. It can occur from a blood clot that broke off and traveled through the blood stream to the lungs. This can block the pumping of the heart and prevents it from taking in oxygen. A Pulmonary Embolism is a medical emergency and needs to be addressed immediately. (If you have any of the symptoms below, call 911 immediately).

What are the symptoms of this disease?

Symptoms usually come in suddenly and may include:

  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Sharp chest pain, often aggravated by coughing or movement
  • Pain in your back
  • Cough with or without bloody sputum
  • Excessive sweating
  • Rapid pulse or breathing
  • Lightheadedness or passing out
  • Blue lips or nail beds

What are the causes of this disease?

  • Surgery, particularly abdominal or orthopaedic surgery, such as hip or knee surgery
  • Trauma or bone fracture
  • A long period of bed rest or sitting for a long time, perhaps on an airplane or in a car
  • Cancer and some cancer treatments, like chemotherapy
  • Cardiovascular diseases such as atrial fibrillation, heart failure, heart attack or stroke
  • Pregnancy and the first 6 weeks after giving birth
  • Birth control pills or hormones taken for symptoms of menopause
  • Family history of blood clots
  • Inherited blood disorders that make the blood thick, such as thrombophilia
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Auto-immune diseases, such as lupus or antiphospholipid syndrome
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Placement of vein catheters, pacemakers or implantable defibrillators

How is this disease treated?

Blood thinner will most likely be prescribed. If the blood clot needs to be removed immediately, a clot-buster may be used. These are taken through an IV in the arm or through a long catheter that delivers them directly to the clot in the lung (this is considered catheter-directed thrombolysis).

Learn more about the diagnosis and treatment here.

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