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Pulmonary embolism

Pulmonary embolism is caused by a blood clot (pulmonary embolus) that breaks loose from where it formed in a vein and travels to your lungs.

What are the symptoms of pulmonary embolism?

Pulmonary embolism may have no symptoms, so it can cause sudden, unexpected death. When symptoms do happen, they may include

  • Chest pain, especially when you breathe in
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting

How is pulmonary embolism diagnosed?

Doctors will begin by checking the oxygen level of the blood in your arteries—a low level may mean there is an embolus in your lungs. The diagnosis is usually confirmed by radioisotope scanning. Follow-up may include pulmonary angiography, a catheter procedure in which dye is injected into your bloodstream to show blood flow through your lungs. Other tests may include ultrasound to see if the embolism was caused by blood clots in your legs and computed tomography (CT) scanning of the legs and lungs.

How is pulmonary embolism treated?

Most cases of pulmonary embolism are treated with blood-thinning agents, anticoagulant medicines (which keep your blood from clotting), and clot-dissolving medicines (thrombolytic therapy). Surgery may be needed in rare cases to remove the clot, but most patients respond well to the medicines.