What is a Pulmonary Embolism?

A pulmonary embolism is a sudden blockage in a lung artery. The cause is usually a blood clot in the leg called a deep vein thrombosis that breaks loose and travels through the bloodstream to the lung. Pulmonary embolism is a common disease that affects more than 600,000 Americans yearly. It is the third cause of cardiovascular deaths after heart attacks and strokes. Deep venous thrombosis is the precursor to pulmonary embolism, and both conditions are usually treated with blood thinners. However, sicker patients with pulmonary embolism (like those with low blood pressure, severe shortness of breath, heart strain, severe leg swelling) may benefit for more aggressive therapy than routine blood thinners. Available treatment options include thrombolytics (strong “clot buster” medications), catheter therapy (through minimally invasive access from leg or neck vein), or open surgery. The decision on which treatment to use in an urgent situation can be difficult and involves multiple factors, including the expertise of different specialists and the preferences of the patient. Having a strong, experienced medical team to deal with this disease is important.

Learn more about the Pulmonary Embolism Program and Response Team