This material must not be used for commercial purposes, or in any hospital or medical facility. Failure to comply may result in legal action.
A pulmonary embolism (PE)
is the sudden blockage of a blood vessel in the lungs by an embolus. An embolus is a small piece of blood clot, fat, air, or tumor cells. The embolus cuts off the blood supply to your lungs. A PE can become life-threatening.
Common signs and symptoms of a PE:
- Sudden shortness of breath or fast breathing
- Sudden chest pain that is worse when you take a deep breath
- Fast heartbeat
- Fever and coughing up blood
- Bluish nails
- Cold, pale, clammy skin
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:
- You feel lightheaded, short of breath, and have chest pain.
- You cough up blood.
Call your doctor if:
- Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
depends on what the embolus is made of and where it is in your lung. Treatment may include any of the following:
- Clot busters are emergency medicines that work to dissolve blood clots.
- Blood thinners help prevent blood clots. Clots can cause strokes, heart attacks, and death. The following are general safety guidelines to follow while you are taking a blood thinner:
- Watch for bleeding and bruising while you take blood thinners. Watch for bleeding from your gums or nose. Watch for blood in your urine and bowel movements. Use a soft washcloth on your skin, and a soft toothbrush to brush your teeth. This can keep your skin and gums from bleeding. If you shave, use an electric shaver. Do not play contact sports.
- Tell your dentist and other healthcare providers that you take a blood thinner. Wear a bracelet or necklace that says you take this medicine.
- Do not start or stop any other medicines unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Many medicines cannot be used with blood thinners.
- Take your blood thinner exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider. Do not skip does or take less than prescribed. Tell your provider right away if you forget to take your blood thinner, or if you take too much.
- Warfarin is a blood thinner that you may need to take. The following are things you should be aware of if you take warfarin:
- Foods and medicines can affect the amount of warfarin in your blood. Do not make major changes to your diet while you take warfarin. Warfarin works best when you eat about the same amount of vitamin K every day. Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables and certain other foods. Ask for more information about what to eat when you are taking warfarin.
- You will need to see your healthcare provider for follow-up visits when you are on warfarin. You will need regular blood tests. These tests are used to decide how much medicine you need.
- A vena cava filter may be placed inside your vena cava to prevent another PE. The vena cava is a large vein that brings blood from your lower body up to your heart. The filter may help trap an embolus and prevent it from going into your lungs.
- Surgery called a thrombectomy may be done to remove the PE. A procedure called thrombolysis may instead be done to inject a clot buster that helps break the clot apart.
Prevent another PE:
- Change your body position or move around often. Move and stretch in your seat several times each hour if you travel by car or work at a desk. In an airplane, get up and walk every hour.
- Exercise regularly to help increase your blood flow. Walking is a good low-impact exercise. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. Ask him or her to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.
- Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can damage blood vessels and increase your risk for another PE. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
- Ask about birth control if you are a woman who takes the pill. A birth control pill increases the risk for blood clots in certain women. The risk is higher if you are also older than 35, smoke cigarettes, or have a blood clotting disorder. Talk to your healthcare provider about other ways to prevent pregnancy, such as a cervical cap or intrauterine device (IUD).
Follow up with your doctor or specialist as directed:
Make an appointment as soon as possible. You may also need to come in regularly for scans to check for blood clots. Your blood may checked to see how long it takes to clot. Your doctor or specialist will tell you if you need to have this test and how often to have it. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
© Copyright IBM Corporation 2021 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health
The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
Learn more about Pulmonary Embolism (Ambulatory Care)
IBM Watson Micromedex
Mayo Clinic Reference
Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.