A pulmonary embolism occurs when one of your pulmonary arteries, the main arteries that carry blood from your heart to your lungs, gets blocked.

It usually happens because a blood clot breaks loose from a vein deep in one of your legs, travels through your bloodstream and gets stuck in the artery, preventing blood from reaching your lung. The clot, or embolus, is usually caused by deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

A small embolism can damage your lungs, and a large one can be life threatening. If you have symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, call 911 right away.


Some of the signs of a pulmonary embolism include:

  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Coughing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fainting
  • Feelings of anxiety or dread
  • Lightheadedness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Pain in your chest, arm, shoulder, neck or jaw
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble breathing

Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis include:

  • Leg ulcers
  • Pain, inflammation or warmth in one of your legs
  • Redness or discoloration of the skin on one of your legs
  • Swelling in one leg or along one leg vein


Talk to your doctor if  you have symptoms of deep vein thrombosis. He or she will perform a physical exam, ask about your symptoms and perform any necessary diagnostic tests.

Services & Treatment

If you’re diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis, your doctor may recommend healthy lifestyle changes, compression socks or blood thinners to stop clots from forming or getting bigger. 

If you can’t take blood-thinning medications, your doctor may insert a vena cava filter, a device that catches clots before they can reach your lungs.

In an emergency, your doctor may administer thrombolytic medications (clot busters) to dissolve the clot fast. In rare cases, you may need surgery to remove a clot. Your doctor will then discuss ways to help prevent future occurrences.

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