A pulmonary embolism is a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in your lungs. A severe and sudden pulmonary embolism can lead to abnormally low blood pressure, loss of consciousness, or even death.
Blood carries oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs as it circulates. When the oxygen is used up, the blood returns to the heart and lungs to pick up more oxygen. Blood enters the lungs through the pulmonary artery, which carries blood from the heart’s right ventricle to the lungs.
The pulmonary artery can be blocked by a substance—usually a blood clot—that travels through the bloodstream and becomes lodged in the artery. Often times this clot starts in a deep vein in the legs, called deep vein thrombosis. When this happens, blood flow through the lungs is restricted and the heart is put under increased pressure. Since pulmonary embolism occurs in conjunction with deep vein thrombosis, most physicians refer to the two conditions together as venous thromboembolism
Symptoms of pulmonary embolism depend on the location and severity of the blood clot. Common symptoms include:
In addition to reviewing your medical history and conducting a physical exam, your doctor may order some of the following tests to diagnose a pulmonary embolism:
Options for treating a pulmonary embolism include: