Lung embolism

A lung embolism occurs when a dislodged blood clot (thrombosis; usually from the leg) moves through the blood stream to the lungs.

Overview

A lung embolism occurs when a dislodged blood clot (thrombosis; usually from the leg) moves through the blood stream to the lungs. Here, the blood clot gets caught in an artery and blocks the flow of blood to the lungs. This causes shortness of breath and pain when breathing and coughing. The most common treatment is to try and dissolve the blood clot with medication; more rarely, an operation is needed.

Symptoms

Main symptoms

Small lung embolisms can remain unnoticed. Bigger embolisms can cause the following symptoms:

Complications

Causes and treatment

Causes

  • A clot which formed in a vein (mostly in the leg) travels to the lungs
  • More rarely, obstruction of the lung capillaries (tiny blood vessels) by fat globules (e.g. during an operation) or air bubbles
Risk factors

These risk factors refer to the development of a venous thrombosis.

  • Lack of exercise (confinement to bed, sitting for prolonged periods, also when flying)
  • Varicose veins
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Taking of oestrogen (the pill)
  • Smoking
  • Cancer

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests
  • Blood test
  • CT scan (computed tomography)
  • Ultrasound
  • ECG (electrocardiogram)
Possible therapies
  • Painkillers
  • Blood thinning (anticoagulation)
  • Oxygen administration (through a nasal tube or mask)
  • Medication to dissolve the blood clot (thrombolysis)
  • Operation (blood clot is removed mechanically)

What can I do myself?

The following tips can help prevent venous thrombosis (most common cause):

  • Physical activity to encourage blood flow in the legs
  • Don't smoke, in particular when you're taking hormonal contraceptives (the “pill”)
  • Compression stockings
  • Kneipp therapy

When to see a doctor?

Synonyms

Lung embolism

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CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.

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