Pulmonary Embolism (cont.)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:
Medical Editor:

What are the signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism?

A pulmonary embolus may present with the sudden onset of chest pain and shortness of breath. The pain is classically sharp and worsens when taking a deep breath, often called pleuritic pain or pleurisy. There may be cough that produces bloody sputum.

The patient may have stable vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation) but frequently presents with an elevated heart rate. If the blood clot is large enough, it can block blood from leaving the right side of the heart thus preventing blood from entering the lungs. There is then no blood entering the left side of the heart to pump to the rest of the body. This can result in circulatory collapse (shock) and death.

Often referred to as saddle embolus (named such as it sits in the division between the left and right pulmonary artery like a saddle). Depending on the amount of blood clot (clot burden or clot load), oxygen saturation can be variably affected as can the blood pressure and heart rate. Classic signs are such that the heart rate and respiratory rate are elevated as the body tries to compensate for less oxygen transfer capabilities in the lung. Increases in breathing and heart rate circulate the blood around the body more quickly, so that whatever oxygen is available is distributed best as possible.

Oxygen saturation may be decreased (red blood cells that do not have oxygen molecules attached to them). Oxygen saturation in a healthy individual approaches 100% at sea level.

The patient may be cyanotic (a blue tinged discoloration of the skin caused by red blood cells without oxygen), lightheaded, and weak.

In some cases, pulmonary embolus will present with sudden death, where the patient collapses, stops breathing, and their heart stops beating (cardiac arrest).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/30/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Pulmonary Embolism (Blood Clot in the Lung) - Treatments Question: What treatment has been effective for your pulmonary embolism?
Pulmonary Embolism - Symptoms Question: What symptoms did you experience with your pulmonary embolism?
Pulmonary Embolism (Blood Clot in the Lung) - Diagnosis Question: Describe the exams and tests you received that led to a diagnosis of a pulmonary embolism.
Pulmonary Embolism - Venous Doppler Question: Did you have a venous doppler study, or ultrasound? Please share your experience.
Pulmonary Embolism - Thrombolytic Therapy Question: Did you or someone you know receive thrombolytic therapy for a pulmonary embolism? Please share your story.