A pulmonary embolism (PULL-mun-ary EM-bo-lizm), or PE, is a sudden blockage in a lung artery. The blockage usually is due to a blood clot that traveled to the lung from a vein in the leg.
A clot that forms in one part of the body and travels in the bloodstream to another part of the body is called an embolus (EM-bo-lus).
PE is a serious condition that can cause:
Permanent damage to part of your lung from lack of blood flow to lung tissue
Low oxygen levels in your blood
Damage to other organs in your body from not getting enough oxygen
If a blood clot is large, or if there are many clots, PE can cause death
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism?
Major Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism (PE) include unexplained shortness of breath, problems breathing, chest pain, coughing, or coughing up blood. An arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) also may indicate PE.
In some cases, the only signs and symptoms are related to deep vein thrombosis (DVT). These include swelling of the leg or along the vein in the leg, pain or tenderness in the leg, a feeling of increased warmth in the area of the leg that's swollen or tender, and red or discolored skin on the affected leg. See your doctor at once if you have any symptoms of PE or DVT.
It's possible to have a PE and not have any signs or symptoms.
Other Signs and Symptoms
Sometimes people who have PE have feelings of anxiety or dread, lightheadedness or fainting, rapid breathing, sweating, or an increased heart rate.
How Can Pulmonary Embolism Be Prevented?
Preventing pulmonary embolism (PE) begins with preventing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Knowing whether you're at risk for DVT and taking steps to lower your risk are important.
If you've never had a deep vein clot but are at risk for one, you can take steps to lower your risk.
Exercise your lower leg muscles during long car trips and airplane rides.
Get out of bed and move around as soon as you're able after having surgery or being ill. The sooner you move around, the lower your chance of developing a clot.
Take medicines to prevent clots after some types of surgery (as your doctor prescribes).
Follow up with your doctor.