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.
Causes and treatment
- 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
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
- Taking of oestrogen (the pill)
Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital
- Blood test
- CT scan (computed tomography)
- ECG (electrocardiogram)
- 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