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Pulmonary Embolism

A pulmonary embolism (PE) is a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in the lungs. In most cases, pulmonary embolism is caused by blood clots that travel to the lungs from deep veins in the legs or other parts of the body. The parts of lung served by each blocked artery are robbed of blood and may die.

In some cases, blockages in the blood vessels are caused by substances other than blood clots, such as:

  • Fat from the marrow of a broken long bone
  • Part of a tumor
  • Air bubbles

Signs & Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fever
  • Leg pain or swelling, or both, usually in the calf caused by a deep vein thrombosis
  • Clammy or discolored skin


A pulmonary embolism can be difficult to diagnose, especially in those with underlying heart or lung disease. For that reason, a Deborah Heart and Lung Center physician will order one or more of the following tests:

  • Blood tests
  • Chest x-ray
  • Ultrasound
  • CT pulmonary angiography
  • Ventilation/perfusion scan (V/Q scan)
  • Pulmonary angiogram
  • MRI