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Pulmonary Embolism

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What is a Pulmonary Embolism?

Blood clotting is a normal process to stop bleeding. But sometimes a blood clot forms, breaks off and travels to another area of the body. If it lodges in a new blood vessel, it can block blood supply to a particular organ. This blockage is called an embolism. A pulmonary embolism (PE) is when a blood clot lodges in a lung artery.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), the most common cause of a pulmonary embolism, involves a clot forming deep in the veins of the leg before breaking off and traveling to the lungs. Less often, pulmonary embolism can come from fat or amniotic fluid deposits, or DVTs in the upper body.

Clots may also form on the end of an inserted intravenous (IV) catheter then break off and travel to the lungs.

A pulmonary embolism can quickly cause serious, life-threatening problems. Lack of blood flow can lead to lung tissue damage and cause low blood oxygen levels that can damage other organs in the body, too.

Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism

  • Sudden shortness of breath (most common)
  • Chest pain (usually worse with breathing)
  • A feeling of anxiety
  • A feeling of dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Palpitations (heart racing)
  • Coughing and/or coughing up blood
  • Sweating
  • Low blood pressure

You may also have symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, such as:

  • Pain in the affected leg (which may happen only when standing or walking)
  • Swelling in the leg
  • Soreness, tenderness, redness, and/or warmth in the leg(s)
  • Redness and/or discolored skin

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UR Medicine's Treatments for Pulmonary Embolism

  • Blood thinners (anticoagulants). These medicines decrease the ability of the blood to clot. This helps stop a clot from getting bigger and prevents new clots from forming.
  • Clot busters (fibrinolytic therapy). These medicines are only used in life-threatening situations to break down the clot.
  • Vena cava filter.  A small metal device placed in the vena cava (the large blood vessel that returns blood from the body to the heart) is used to keep clots from traveling to the lungs. These filters are generally used when you can't get anticoagulation treatment (for medical reasons), if more clots develop even with anticoagulation treatment, or when you have bleeding problems from anticoagulation medicines.
  • Pulmonary embolectomy. Open-heart surgery to remove a PE is reserved for cases where the PE is very large, anticoagulation and/or thrombolytic therapy isn’t possible because of other medical problems, or if your condition is unstable.
  • Percutaneous thrombectomy. A thin tube (catheter) can be threaded through the blood vessel to the site of the embolism. Once the catheter is in place, it's used to break up the embolism, pull it out, or dissolve it.

What Sets Us Apart?

UR Medicine is the only institution in the Rochester metropolitan area and surrounding region with a Pulmonary Embolism Response Team (PERT Team). This team of cardiologists, pulmonologists, and surgeons races to the bedside of patients with suspected pulmonary embolism and delivers treatment as quickly as possible.


Our care team is here for you. Find a UR Medicine expert and get care now.

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