Symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism

By: Alere Staff
Publication Date: Sun, 03/01/2015

Pulmonary embolism, also known as “PE”, is the medical term for a blood clot in the lung. It is not a disease in and of itself, but occurs as a complication of a blood clot in a vein elsewhere in the body. Most commonly, a blood clot travels from the deep veins in the leg to lodge in the lung, blocking the flow of blood in arteries within the lung. This causes a sudden development of symptoms that can be quite frightening and sometimes confused with a heart attack, an asthma attack, pneumonia or a panic attack.

Three symptoms most commonly associated with PE are: sudden unexplainable shortness of breath, chest pain with every breath which worsens the more deeply a person breathes and a cough that produces blood. People may also experience symptoms of overwhelming anxiety, lightheadedness, rapid or irregular heart rate and sweating. The signs of pulmonary embolism do not wax and wane. They are continuous and relentless and it is essential to seek medical attention immediately. Quick treatment is key to saving one’s life when PE is suspected, so it is wise to be familiar with the signs and symptoms associated.

A personal or family history of blood clots and certain clotting disorders can make a person more prone to PE. Other times that blood clots can tend to develop are when one has cancer, when taking birth control pills or estrogen therapy, after a heart attack or stroke, after childbirth or during long periods of inactivity such as after surgery or when traveling.

The good news with PE is that with early detection and treatment, survival rates are excellent.

Interested in learning more? Here are some related articles:

  • Identifying Dangerous Blood Clots
  • Blood Clot Awareness Month
  • March is DVT Awareness Month: Understanding DVT
  • Post Pregnancy Stroke Risk
  • Compression Stockings for DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis)


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  2. Orenstein, Beth W, 2015. How Do You Know if It’s a Pulmonary Embolism? Everday Health. Retrieved from website:
  3. National Institutes of Health, 2015. Pulmonary Embolus. Medline Plus. Retrieved from website: