Pulmonary Embolism (Blood Clot in the Lung)

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: George Schiffman, MD, FCCP
    George Schiffman, MD, FCCP

    George Schiffman, MD, FCCP

    Dr. Schiffman received his B.S. degree with High Honors in biology from Hobart College in 1976. He then moved to Chicago where he studied biochemistry at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle. He attended Rush Medical College where he received his M.D. degree in 1982 and was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society. He completed his Internal Medicine internship and residency at the University of California, Irvine.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Deep Vein Thrombosis Slideshow

Quick GuideDeep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Pictures Slideshow: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Pictures Slideshow: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

What are the causes and risk factors for pulmonary embolism?

Pulmonary embolus is the end result of a deep vein thrombosis or blood clot elsewhere in the body. Most commonly, the DVT begins in the leg, but they also can occur in veins within the abdominal cavity or in the arms.

The risk factors for a pulmonary embolism are the same as the risk factors for deep vein thrombosis. These are referred to as Virchow's triad and include:

  • prolonged immobilization or alterations in normal blood flow (stasis)
  • increased clotting potential of the blood (hypercoagulability)
  • damage to the walls of the veins.

Examples of these include the following:

Prolonged immobilization

  • Extended travel (sitting in a car, airplane, train, etc.)
  • Hospitalization or prolonged bed rest

Increased blood clotting potential

  • Medications: birth control pills, estrogen
  • Smoking
  • Genetic predisposition: most commonly, Factor V Leiden deficiency, MHFTHR mutation, Protein C or Protein S deficiencies or anitithrobin III deficiency
  • Polycythemia (increased number of red blood cells, the opposite of anemia)
  • Cancer
  • Pregnancy, including the postpartum period up to 6 to 8 weeks after delivery
  • Surgery

Damage to vessel wall

  • Prior deep venous thrombosis
  • Trauma to the lower leg with or without surgery or casting
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2015
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