Pulmonary Embolism

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).
  • Cough
    • 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
    • Starts suddenly

Other symptoms that may occur:

  • Anxiety
  • Bluish skin discoloration
  • Clammy skin
  • Dizziness
  • 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
  • Sweating
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Weak or absent pulse
  • Wheezing

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of a pulmonary embolism.


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:

  • Streptokinase
  • t-PA

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 vascular services at a Texas Health hospital near you.

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