Pulmonary Embolism

Pulmonary Embolism

What is it?

A pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lung, is a condition that occurs when one or more arteries in the lungs become blocked. In many cases, pulmonary embolism is caused by blood clots that travel to your lungs from other parts within the body. In other instances, substances such as fat from within the marrow of the broken bone, part of a tumor or air bubbles may also form blockages within the blood vessels of the lungs. Usually multiple clots are involved.

Causes, Symptoms and Risk Factors

Pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot gets lodged into an artery in your lungs. These blood clots originate deep in one of the veins (deep vein thrombosis). Many cases it originates in the veins of the legs but may also come from other parts of the body. The lung tissue served by each blocked artery is lacking oxygen and may die or not be able to pass it on to the rest of the body.

Causes of pulmonary embolism can be:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Valve disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Cancer
  • Surgery
  • Medicines such as tamoxafin or supplemental estrogen
  • Smoking

Although anyone can develop blood clots and subsequent pulmonary embolism, certain factors can increase your risk.

  • Prolonged immobility
  • Bed rest
  • Long journeys
  • Age
  • Surgery
  • Dehydration
  • Family history

Symptoms of pulmonary embolism may include the following:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Cough that may produce bloody or blood-streaked sputum
  • Wheezing
  • Leg swelling
  • Clammy or bluish-colored skin
  • Excessive sweating
  • Rapid or irregular heart beat
  • Weak pulse
  • Lightheadedness or fainting

Pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening, and may lead to pulmonary hypertension or death. However when the condition is diagnosed and treated promptly, it can be corrected. 

Our Services (Tests, Procedures and Treatments)

Pulmonary embolism can be difficult to diagnose, especially in people who have underlying heart or lung disease. Diagnostic testing may be ordered by the doctor to help find the cause of the symptoms. A doctor may order the following tests:

Prompt treatment of pulmonary embolism is essential to prevent serious complications or death. The following medications and procedures may be used for treatment:

  • Anticoagulants (clot prevention)
  • Thrombolytics (clot dissolvers)
  • Clot removal
  • Vein filter
St. Luke's Heart & Vascular