pulmonary_embolismPulmonary Embolism (PE) is a blockage of a main artery of the Lungs or less commonly in one of the adjacent branches.

It also can also be referred to as a Pulmonary Venous Thromboembolism or PE.


A Pulmonary Embolism is somewhat common and when it occurs – can be very serious.

Approximately 200,000 deaths worldwide per year are attributed to a PE.

Many cases are only identified upon autopsy or after death.

A blockage is caused from a Thrombus or similar that travels through the blood stream and stops in the lungs.

A result of the blockage is a lack of oxygen to that area.

Thrombi can arise from anywhere in the Venous Circulation

Most often arise in a vein from the calf.

The emboli can break off and travel to the Heart and into the Lungs that can cause the embolism.

DVT or Deep Venous Thrombosis is essential and a Pulmonary Embolism may be waiting to happen.

Risk Factors

Several different substances can cause an emboli

  • Air
  • Thrombus – most common
  • Septic emboli
  • Foreign bodies
  • Tumor cells
  • Amniotic fluid



Risk Factors

  • Pooling or slowing of venous blood flow
  • Injury to vessel wall
  • Hypercoagulability
  • Following a surgery
  • Bed rest
  • Obesity
  • Following a Stroke
  • Inherited conditions



  • Obstuction
  • Heart Failure
  • Hypoxemia
  • Decrease cardiac output
  • Death



  • Wheezing
  • Difficult breathing
  • Pain with breathing
  • Coughing blood
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Palpitations
  • Leg pain




EKG may often be abnormal

Arterial blood gas shows Respiratory Alkalosis

D-dimer can be elevated

D-dimer is a breakdown product of fibrin

Chest X-ray is quite important

Perfusion scan

  • This is done by injecting particles into the venous system.
  • Will show a blockage in the lung where blood flow is being obstructed.

Almost 3 out of 4 who have a PE will also have a DVT on evaluation

The standard for diagnosis is a Pulmonary Arteriography – it is regarded as an invasive procedure that is safe

MRI can help determine a DVT

Ultrasound of leg to show DVT

Prevention is the key of success in many cases

Risk factors can often be identified and concerns can be addressed

For example, compression stockings can improve risk for DVT and improves venous return



  • Heparin
  • Warfarin typically 6 months (or longer)

Low-molecular-weight heparins (LMW)

  • Dalteparin  (Fragmin)  a LMW
  • Enoxaparin  (Lovenox)  a LMW
  • Nadroparin  (Fraxiparin)  a LMW
  • Tinzaparin  (Innohep)  a LMW

Unfractionated heparin

Thrombolytic Therapy

  • Streptokinase
  • Urokinase
  • Recombinant tissue plasmingoen activator (rt-PA) [Alteplase]

Interruption of the vena cava

A filter may be placed as a net to catch thrombus



Prognosis is that almost 50,000 death are seen annually

With a mortality rate from an untreated PE to be around 25%

The underlying disease and area of lungs affected are the keys to good prognosis