What Is Pulmonary Embolism?
A pulmonary embolism (PULL-mun-ary EM-bo-lizm), or
PE, is a sudden blockage in a lung artery, usually due to a blood clot that
traveled to the lung from a vein in the leg. A clot that forms in one part of
the body and travels in the bloodstream to another part of the body is called
PE 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 the blood clot is large, or if there are many
clots, PE can cause death.
In most cases, PE is a complication of a condition
vein thrombosis (DVT). In DVT, blood clots form in the deep veins of the
bodymost often in the legs. These clots can break free, travel through
the bloodstream to the lungs, and block an artery.
This is unlike clots in the veins close the skin's
surface, which remain in place and do not cause PE.
At least 100,000 cases of PE occur each year in the
United States. PE is the third most common cause of death in hospitalized
patients. If left untreated, about 30 percent of patients with PE will die.
Most of those who die do so within the first few hours of the event.