Pulmonary embolism

Pulmonary embolism is sudden blockage of blood flow in an artery in the lung. The blockage (an embolus) can be caused by a blood clot, tumor, amniotic fluid, or fat in the artery.

Blood clots in the deep veins of the leg are the most common cause of pulmonary embolism. A clot may break loose from a deep vein in the leg and travel to a pulmonary artery in the lung, where it can block blood flow.

Pulmonary embolism can be a very serious condition that can result in death. Symptoms of a pulmonary embolus include:

  • Sudden, sharp chest pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain that gets worse with deep breathing or coughing.
  • Coughing up blood or pink, foamy mucus.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Sweating.
  • Anxiety.

Pulmonary embolism is treated in the hospital with monitoring, oxygen, and anticoagulants to prevent more blood clots.

Last Updated: January 29, 2009

Author: Maria G. Essig, MS, ELS

Medical Review: Caroline S. Rhoads, MD - Internal Medicine & Jeffrey S. Ginsberg, MD - Hematology

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