Pulmonary Embolism

Pulmonary Embolism: Overview

Pulmonary embolism is a severe and life-threatening condition, caused when the pulmonary artery is blocked by foreign matter such as a blood clot (thrombus), fat, air or tumor tissue.

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Causes and Development

Conditions that may contribute to pulmonary embolism include extended bed rest, surgery, cancer, paralysis and aging.

Signs and Symptoms

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.  Common symptoms include sudden chest pain, excessive perspiring, shock, cyanosis (bluish skin color), anxiety and loss of consciousness.

Diagnosis and Tests

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.

Treatment and Prevention

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.

Seek medical attention if...

A doctor must be seen immediately if symptoms occur.

Signs, symptoms & indicators of Pulmonary Embolism:

Symptoms - Nails

Symptoms - Respiratory

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.

Chronic/recent productive cough

A cough that begins suddenly, sometimes mixed with blood-streaked sputum, is a frequently-seen symptom of pulmonary embolism, but other symptoms are more likely to point to the correct diagnosis.

Risk factors for Pulmonary Embolism:


Hemolytic Anemia

Sickle cell disease increases the risk of pulmonary embolism.


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Pulmonary Embolism suggests the following may be present:


Preventive measures against Pulmonary Embolism:


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Weak or unproven link: may be a sign or symptom of; may increase risk of; may suggest
Weak or unproven link:
may be a sign or symptom of; may increase risk of; may suggest
Strong or generally accepted link: is often a sign or symptom of; often increases risk of
Strong or generally accepted link:
is often a sign or symptom of; often increases risk of
Very useful: usually prevents
Very useful:
usually prevents
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