A pulmonary embolism is the blockage of the pulmonary artery by a
foreign matter or a blood clot.
A pulmonary embolus is most often caused by a blood clot in a
vein, especially a vein in the leg or in the pelvis (hip area).
The most common cause is a blood clot in one of the deep veins of
the legs. This type of clot is called a
deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism may include:
- Chest pain
- Under the breastbone or on one side.
- Especially sharp or stabbing; also may be a burning,
aching, or dull, heavy sensation.
- May get worse with deep breathing, coughing, eating,
bending, or stooping (person may bend over or hold his or her
chest in response to the pain).
- Begins suddenly
- May cough up blood or blood-streaked sputum
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- May occur at rest or during activity
Other symptoms that may occur:
- Bluish skin discoloration
- Clammy skin
- Leg pain in one or both legs
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Low blood pressure
- Lump associated with a vein near the surface of the body,
which may be painful
- Nasal flaring
- Pelvic pain
- Swelling in the legs
- Weak or absent pulse
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of a
Emergency treatment and a hospital stay are often necessary. The
aim is to prevent new clots from forming. Oxygen therapy may be
required to maintain normal oxygen levels.
In cases of severe, life-threatening pulmonary embolism,
treatment may involve dissolving the clot and preventing new
clots from forming.
Treatment to dissolve clots is called thrombolytic therapy.
Clot-dissolving medications may include:
Treatment to prevent clots is called anticoagulation therapy.
Such drugs are commonly called blood thinners. When you first
start taking blood thinners, you will need frequent lab tests to
check the thickness of your blood. This will help your doctor
properly adjust your dose.
Patients who cannot tolerate blood thinners may need a device
called an inferior vena cava filter (IVC filter). This device is
placed in the main central vein in the belly area. It keeps large
clots from traveling into the blood vessels of the lungs.
Sometimes a temporary filter can be placed and removed later.
Texas Health is committed to providing quality care to heart
and vascular patients throughout North Texas and beyond. While
various technologies and services are discussed here, not all of
our hospitals offer every treatment and diagnostic technology
highlighted. Call 1-877-THR-WELL to learn more about heart and
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