Pulmonary Embolism (cont.)

Who is at risk for pulmonary embolism?

Populations affected

Pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs equally in men and women. Risk increases with age: For each 10 years after age 60, the risk of pulmonary embolism doubles.

Certain inherited conditions, such as factor V Leiden, increase the risk of blood clotting, and, therefore, the risk of pulmonary embolism.

Major risk factors

People at high risk for a blood clot that travels to the lungs are those who:

  • Have deep vein thrombosis (DVT, a blood clot in the leg) or a history of DVT

  • Have had pulmonary embolism before

Other risk factors

People who recently have been treated for cancer or who have a central venous catheter (a tube placed in a vein to allow easy access to the bloodstream for medical treatment) are more likely to develop DVT. The same is true for people who have been bedridden or have had surgery or suffered a broken bone in the past few weeks.

Other risk factors for DVT, which can lead to pulmonary embolism, include sitting for long periods of time (such as on long car or airplane rides), pregnancy and the 6-week period after pregnancy, and being overweight or obese. Women who take hormone therapy or birth control pills also are at increased risk for DVT.

People with more than one risk factor are at higher risk for blood clots.

What are the signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism?

Major signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism (PE) include unexplained shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, coughing, or coughing up blood. An arrhythmia (a rapid or irregular heartbeat) also may indicate pulmonary embolism.

In some cases, the only signs and symptoms are related to deep vein thrombosis (DVT). These include swelling of the leg or along the vein in the leg, pain or tenderness in the leg, a feeling of increased warmth in the area of the leg that's swollen or tender, and red or discolored skin on the affected leg. See your doctor at once if you have any symptoms of pulmonary embolism or DVT.

It's possible to have a pulmonary embolism and not have any signs or symptoms of pulmonary embolism or DVT.

Other signs and symptoms

Sometimes people who have pulmonary embolism experience feelings of anxiety or dread, lightheadedness or fainting, rapid breathing, sweating, or an increased heart rate.


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