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Signs and Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism

Pulmonary embolism is a blockage of one of the main arteries of the lungs, usually by a blood clot that has traveled to the lungs from another part of the body, typically from the deep veins in the legs. In some cases, pulmonary embolism is due to air bubbles, fat, or a part of a tumor. Most cases of pulmonary embolism occur as a complication of deep vein thrombosis, which is clotting in the veins farthest from the surface of the body. Pulmonary embolism can occur in healthy people as well, with no previous signs or symptoms. We have put together a list of common signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism below.

The Common Signs and Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism are as follows:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain on the in-breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Cough with blood-tinged sputum
  • Rapid breathing
  • Blue discoloration of the lips and fingers
  • Wheezing
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Swelling on one leg
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Weak pulse
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting

If you are experiencing any of the above signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism, particularly shortness of breath, chest pain, or a cough that produces bloody sputum, seek medical help immediately. Pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening.

Pulmonary embolism can occur as a result of prolonged bed rest, such as after a heart attack or surgery, or during a long journey, such as a plane or car trip. Older people are at a higher risk of developing pulmonary embolism, and children are rarely at risk.

Diagnosis of Pulmonary Embolism

It is difficult to diagnose pulmonary embolism based on the presenting signs and symptoms alone, since the signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism mimic several other heart and lung conditions.  Tests used to assist in the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism include a chest x-ray, which is used to rule out other heart and lung conditions; a CT pulmonary angiography, a ventilation/perfusion scan of the lungs, a d-dimer blood test, an ultrasound of the legs, and possibly an MRI.

Books For People with Signs and Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism

100 Q&A About Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism (100 Questions & Answers about . . .)
Andra H. James
The Coumadin (Warfarin) Help Book: Anticoagulation Therapy to Prevent and Manage Strokes, Heart Attacks, and Other Vascular Conditions
Ph.D. Diana M. Schneider

Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism: a Guide for Practitioners
Andrew D. Blann
Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism
Edwin J. R. van Beek

Pulmonary Embolism Resources

General Patient Resources

  • Cleveland Clinic

Online Medical Reference – covering Definition through Treatment. Co-authored by Anil Gopinath and Thomas R. Gildea of the Cleveland Clinic.

  • Vascular Web

Board of Directors; Bylaws; Councils, Committees, Sections; Distinguished Fellow Designation; Financial Information; History of Vascular Surgery

  • Health Scout

Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention of Pulmonary Embolism … Definition of Pulmonary Embolism; Description of Pulmonary Embolism; Causes and Risk Factors of Pulmonary Embolism.

  • Medicine Net . com

Learn about pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lung. Symptoms include chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, coughing up blood, and more.

  • Daily Strength

Discuss Pulmonary Embolism with others who understand what you’re going through.

  • Experience Project

I Have Pulmonary Embolism Pulmonary Embolism anonymous support group with information on diagnosis, treatment, symptoms, along with personal stories and experiences with Pulmonary Embolism. You’re not alone.

Medical Resources

  • Mayo Clinic

Comprehensive overview covers symptoms, causes, treatment of condition related to blood clots.

  • Medline Plus

A service of the US National Library of Medicine.

  • Web MD

Information on pulmonary embolism, the sudden blockage of an artery in the lung