Symptoms and Signs of Pulmonary Embolism

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 9/13/2021

Doctor's Notes on Pulmonary Embolism

A pulmonary embolism (PE) is a blood clot in the lung. The signs and symptoms of a PE are as follows: sharp and stabbing chest pain that increases with a deep breath, short of breath (especially with exertion), anxiety, cough (may produce some blood), sweating, and passing out. In addition, the patient may have other signs that relate to a PE such as having a DVT (deep vein thrombosis), a swelling, pain, warmth, and redness of an arm or leg.

The immediate cause of a PE is a clot blocking blood flow in the lung. Risk factors for PE development include immobilization (for example, people with a stroke, bone fracture, or spinal cord injury), travel with prolonged sitting, recent surgery, trauma (especially to the legs), obesity, burns, and a previous DVT. Any condition or disease that increases blood clotting (cancer, pregnancy, medicine, or treatments like oral contraceptives) can be a risk factor for a PE. A PE can be fatal. If you suspect you have one, go to an emergency department or call 911.

What Are Treatments for a Pulmonary Embolism?

The most common treatment for a PE is blood thinners (anticoagulants). They can be given orally, and some can be administered by IV:

For life-threatening pulmonary embolisms, thrombolytic drugs are administered by trained hospital caregivers to break up clots. Another method that is occasionally used is embolectomy, a surgical technique that inserts a thin tube through a vein that eventually reaches the PE in the lung. Then the PE is removed or dissolved with a thrombolytic.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.