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Pulmonary embolism, a sudden blockage that occurs in an artery in the lung, usually occurs when a blood clot in a vein breaks off, travels through the blood stream, and lodges in the lung. It is one of the most common causes of death in hospitalized people who must remain in bed for a long time. In most cases, this blockage is a complication of a condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

  

What Is a Pulmonary Embolism?

Pulmonary embolism is a sudden blockage that occurs in an artery in the lung. It usually occurs when a blood clot in a vein breaks off, travels through the bloodstream, and lodges in the lung. A blood clot that forms in one part of the body and travels in the bloodstream to another part of the body is called an embolus.
 
Pulmonary embolism is a serious condition that can cause:
 
  • Permanent damage to part of your lung from lack of blood flow to lung tissue
  • Low oxygen levels in your blood
  • Damage to other organs in your body from not getting enough oxygen.
 
If a clot is large, or if there are many clots, pulmonary embolism can cause death.
 
In most cases, it is a complication of a condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). In DVT, blood clots form in the deep veins of the body. These clots can break free, travel to the lung, and block an artery.
 
(Click Deep Vein Thrombosis for more information about DVT.)
 
More than 600,000 people in the United States have a pulmonary embolism each year, and more than 60,000 of them die. Most of those who die do so within 30 to 60 minutes after symptoms start. This type of embolism is one of the most common causes of death in hospitalized people who must remain in bed for a long time.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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