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Pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening 

Posted at 6:41 AM, Jun 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-03 07:41:02-04

A pulmonary embolism or blood clot on the lungs is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 100,000 people die each year from these conditions.

The blood clots usually travel from the leg to the lungs.

However, if treated, most patients will make a full recovery.

Although not many people are familiar with the term ‘pulmonary embolism,’ it occurs in more than 900,000 Americans each year.

“Usually these blood clots are formed in the deep venous system in the leg, thigh, or pelvis. When these blood clots get dislodged, they travel through the bloodstream and then finally, they get lodged in the pulmonary artery or in its branches. Those are the ones we call pulmonary emboli,” said Corpus Christi Medical Center Pulmonary Specialist Dr. Chinthaka Bulathsinghala.

The blockage prevents oxygen from reaching the tissues of the lungs. This means it can be life-threatening.

“After surgery people have a high tendency to develop pulmonary embolism, mainly hip, pelvis, and knee surgery. Also, if you are in a prolonged immobility stage – if you are not mobile like a normal person following trauma, surgery, or stroke, they also can develop pulmonary emboli. Pregnant people, obese people, and smokers have a high risk of developing this disease,” said Bulathsinghala.

Taking measures to prevent blood clots in your legs will help protect you against pulmonary embolism.

“But let’s talk about the common symptoms: shortness of breath, if you have risk factors like we just discussed and suddenly you started having shortness of breath differently, you have to worry about pulmonary embolism. Chest pain, sharp knife-like, usually gets worse upon taking a deep breath is also very characteristic. Coughing is common, but especially if you are coughing up blood that raises the possibility. Racing or irregular heartbeat, faintness or dizziness are also some common symptoms,”  said Bulathsinghala.

Doctors say if you have risk factors or any of these symptoms you need to see your doctor as soon as possible.

Pulmonary embolism is a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in your lungs. In most cases, pulmonary embolism is caused by blood clots that travel to the lungs from the legs or, rarely, other parts of the body (deep vein thrombosis).

Because the clots block blood flow to the lungs, pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening. However, prompt treatment greatly reduces the risk of death.


Pulmonary embolism symptoms can vary greatly, depending on how much of your lung is involved, the size of the clots, and whether you have underlying lung or heart disease.

Common signs and symptoms include:
•         Shortness of breath. This symptom typically appears suddenly and always gets worse with exertion.
•         Chest pain. You may feel like you’re having a heart attack. The pain may become worse when you breathe deeply (pleurisy), cough, eat, bend or stoop. The pain will get worse with exertion but won’t go away when you rest.

•         Cough. The cough may produce bloody or blood-streaked sputum.

Other signs and symptoms that can occur with pulmonary embolism include:
•         Leg pain or swelling, or both, usually in the calf
•         Clammy or discolored skin (cyanosis)
•         Fever
•         Excessive sweating
•         Rapid or irregular heartbeat

•         Lightheadedness or dizziness


Pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening. About one-third of people with undiagnosed and untreated pulmonary embolism don’t survive. When the condition is diagnosed and treated promptly, however, that number drops dramatically.

Pulmonary embolism can also lead to pulmonary hypertension, a condition in which the blood pressure in your lungs and in the right side of the heart is too high.

Preventing clots in the deep veins in your legs (deep vein thrombosis) will help prevent pulmonary embolism.

Blood thinners, compression stockings, leg elevation, physical activity, pneumatic compression.


Blood tests, chest X-ray, Ultrasound, Spiral CT Scan, Pulmonary angiogram, MRI


Blood thinners, thrombolytics, surgical procedures – clot removal, vein filter