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Pulmonary Embolism

Pulmonary Embolism: What it is, Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatments | National Heart Centre Singapore

Pulmonary Embolism - What it is

Pulmonary embolism occurs when there is a blockage in a pulmonary artery located in the lungs. For many cases, the condition is caused by blood clots which travel to from the legs to the lungs.

In severe cases, the blood clots will block blood flow to the lungs and can be life-threatening. Prevent the formation of blood clots in the legs can help protect against pulmonary embolism. Immediate treatment also greatly reduces the risk of death.

Pulmonary Embolism - Symptoms

The symptoms for pulmonary embolism depend on the extent of the condition such as the size of the blood clots and if the patient has other underlying heart conditions. Some symptoms are as follows:
  • Cough
  • Angina (Also known as Chest Pain)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Leg pain or swelling, typically in the calf
  • Discoloured or sweaty skin
  • Fever
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitation (rapid heartbeat)

Pulmonary Embolism - How to prevent?

Pulmonary Embolism - Causes and Risk Factors

Pulmonary embolism is a condition whereby a chunk, oftentimes a blood clot, becomes wedged into the lung artery. This is mostly caused by deep vein thrombosis (DVT), another condition where blood clots develops in the deep veins of legs. In other cases, the blockages are caused by other substances, such as collagen, tissues or part of a tumour.

For most cases, patients have multiple clots in the artery. Pulmonary infarction might occur, whereby the portions of lung served by each blocked artery have blood deficiency and may die. This also makes it more difficult for the lungs to provide oxygen to the rest of the body.

Risk factors
While any individual can develop blood clots and consequently pulmonary embolism, some factors can increase your risk. These factors include:
  • Medical history: Patients with family members with a history of having blood clots or pulmonary embolism may be more prone to the condition.
  • Heart disease: Certain heart conditions, especially heart failure, make blood clot more likely to occur.
  • Cancer: Some forms of cancers (particularly lung, pancreatic and ovarian cancers) can increase risk of blood clot. Chemotherapy also further increases this risk.
  • Surgery: Surgery is one of the main causes of blood clot formations. Therefore, medications to prevent clots are usually given before and after a major surgery procedure.
  • Long periods of immobility: Blood clots have a higher risk of forming during longer periods of inactivity, such as confinement to a bed after a surgery or during long trips.
  • Smoking: Tobacco may increase the risk of blood clot formation.
  • Being overweight: Individuals with excess weight have a higher risk of developing blood clots, especially for those who have high blood pressure.
  • Pregnancy: In some pregnancies, the weight of a baby pressing on the veins in the pelvis region results in slower blood flow from the legs, subsequently increasing the risk of blood clot.

Pulmonary Embolism - Diagnosis

The doctor will most likely order one or more of diagnostic tests to evaluate the patient’s condition. Some of the tests include:
  • Blood tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • Ultrasound
  • Spiral CT scan
  • Pulmonary angiogram
  • MRI

Pulmonary Embolism - Treatments

The aim of treatment for pulmonary embolism is to stop the blood clot from growing and prevent new formations of blood clots. Immediate treatment is essential to prevent the condition from becoming life-threatening. Some of these treatments include:
  • Medication such as blood thinners (anticoagulants) and clot dissolvers (thrombolytics)
  • Surgery such as clot removal and vein filter

Pulmonary Embolism - Preparing for surgery

Pulmonary Embolism - Post-surgery care

Pulmonary Embolism - Other Information

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