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Home :: Pulmonary Embolism

Pulmonary Embolism - Symptoms and Treatment

A lung embolus (pulmonary embolism) occurs when a blood vessel supplying the lung becomes clogged up by a clot - a lump of coagulated blood.

The clot may have travelled in the bloodstream from a vein in the pelvis, abdomen or in the leg; through the veins of the body, through the heart and into the lung. A damaged heart can also be the cause of these clots.


Clots are most likely to form in association with any of the following:

  • Injury to the pelvis, thigh or leg, especially dislocations, contusions and fractures.
  • Use of oral contraceptives, especially in women over age 35.
  • Any injury, illness or surgery that requires prolonged bed rest. This can lead to pooling of blood in veins.
  • Sitting in one position for a prolonged period.
  • Heart-rhythm disturbance.
  • Hemolytic anemia.
  • Polycythemia (see Glossary).
  • Smoking.
  • Pregnancy.

Signs and symptoms

  • Sudden shortness of breath.
  • Faintness or fainting.
  • Pain in the chest.
  • Cough (sometimes with bloody sputum).
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Low fever.

These symptoms are often preceded by swelling and pain in the leg or thigh.


  • Laboratory blood studies to regulate anticoagulant medication dose.
  • X-rays of the chest.
  • Chest CT scan and radioactive studies to establish presence and extent of a clot in the lung.
  • Echocardiogram
  • An ECG may show abnormalities caused by strain on the heart.


Medical Treatment

  • Hospitaization for anticoagulation, oxygen and possible surgery.

Thrombolytic therapy (clot-dissolving medication) includes streptokinase, urokinase, or t-PA. Anticoagulation therapy (clot-preventing medication) consists of heparin by intravenous infusion initially, then oral warfarin (Coumadin). Subcutaneous low-molecular weight heparin is often substituted for intravenous heparin in many circumstances.

Home Treatment

  • Wear elastic stockings or leg wraps willi elastic bandages.
  • Don't sit with your legs or ankles crossed.
  • Elevate your feet higher than your hips when sitting for long periods.
  • Elevate the foot of your bed.
  • Observe safety regulations and wear protective equipment for contact sports to prevent injury whenever possible.
  • Don't smoke, especially if you are a woman 35 or older who takes birth-control pills.
  • Avoid prolonged bed rest during illnesses. Wear elastic support stockings during recuperation from surgery or illness. Start moving lower limbs and walking as soon as possible.
  • When traveling, stand and walk every 2 hours.

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Disclaimer: website is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. Always take the advice of professional health care for specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment. We will not be liable for any complications, or other medical accidents arising from the use of any information on this web site. Please note that medical information is constantly changing. Therefore some information may be out of date.