Pulmonary embolism is defined as a blockage of a pulmonary artery caused by a thrombus dislodged usually from the deep veins of the lower limbs.
The typical presentation of the pulmonary embolism includes sudden onset of pleuritic chest pain, shortness of breath and hypoxia . Most of the patients might have no clinical presentation at all. Symptoms may also vary from patient to patient. Hence, the diagnosis is made in the case of unexplained respiratory problems after excluding the other probable causes.
Entire Body System
Abstract A young man presented with the severe right upper limb swelling following a heavy weight lifting that was thought to be caused by a biceps tendon rupture. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
These include swelling of the leg or along a vein in the leg, pain or tenderness in the leg, a feeling of increased warmth in the area of the leg that's swollen or tender, and red or discolored skin on the affected leg. [web.archive.org]
High grade fever is a rare presentation of thromboembolic phenomenon. A middle aged woman presented with high grade fevers. Patient remained febrile despite broad spectrum antibiotics. All cultures were negative. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Congestive Heart Failure
heart failure, chronic lung disease, and neurologic disease. [jamanetwork.com]
As a result of another medical condition, such as cardiovascular disease (including congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation and heart attack) or stroke. When clotting factors in the blood are increased, elevated, or in some cases, lowered. [my.clevelandclinic.org]
It can mimic pneumonia, congestive heart failure, and a viral illness known as pleurisy. [vascularcures.org]
heart failure, dehydration, or shock. [rtmagazine.com]
Venous thromboembolism may result from prolong immobilization following intracerebral hemorrhage. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Some risk factors for VTE include: prolonged immobilization, surgery or trauma, cancer, pregnancy, oral contraceptives or estrogen therapy, smoking, and hypercoagulable states (inborn errors of coagulation). [medicinenet.com]
Introduction Definition mechanical obstruction of the pulmonary vascular secondary to a blood clot typically the blood clot is a thromboembolism from a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) Epidemiology risk factors prolonged immobilization ( e.g., long travel) [medbullets.com]
prolonged immobilization or congestive heart failure). [clinicaladvisor.com]
Stasis can also result from prolonged immobilization, as seen in patients who are bedridden or in relatively healthy people who travel long distances.1 Although traveling carries a relatively low rate of massive PE, the risk increases substantially for [rtmagazine.com]
We present an 88-year-old female with dyspnea and fatigue, which became increasingly worse over a month in the absence of medication. Her weight was 64 kg. Routine coagulation assays and renal function were normal at time of admission. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Symptoms can include loss of concentration, focus, fatigue, language faculty impairment and memory loss. [en.wikipedia.org]
Furthermore, for those surviving the initial event, prognosis and quality of life may be markedly impaired with increased likelihood of developing long-term complications, such as RV dysfunction and pulmonary hypertension with associated exercise intolerance, fatigue [circ.ahajournals.org]
Chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension causes symptoms and signs of right heart failure, including exertional dyspnea, easy fatigue, and peripheral edema that develops over months to years. [msdmanuals.com]
CLINICAL FEATURES • SYMPTOMS • Gradual onset, often greater than 6 months, of dyspnea – exertional, progressive • and/or a nonproductive cough Systemic symptoms (uncommon) • Weight loss • Low-grade fevers • Fatigue • Arthralgias • Myalgias 25. [slideshare.net]
The patient's cough and shortness of breath were slightly relieved. He still experienced pleural effusion and had symptoms of cough and shortness of breath. Chest X-ray demonstrated bilateral pleural effusion. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Major Signs and Symptoms Signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism (PE) include unexplained shortness of breath, problems breathing, chest pain, coughing, or coughing up blood. An arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) also may suggest that you have PE. [web.archive.org]
Symptoms of PE include chest pain, shortness of breath, severe cough, coughing up of blood and even sudden death. Pulmonary embolism is the major concern for patients experiencing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). [inovaheart.org]
The patient suffered dyspnea after undergoing the injection laryngoplasty. Chest embolism computed tomography (CT) scan revealed a new lesion of enhancing materials at the pulmonary vasculature in the right upper lobe. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Eight variables were included in a block rule: Age 50 years, pulse 100 bpm, SaO(2) 94%, no unilateral leg swelling, no hemoptysis, no recent trauma or surgery, no prior PE or DVT, no hormone use. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
It manifests as pleural chest pain and hemoptysis. In contrast, multiple micro-emboli occlude the capillary beds of the lungs. [symptoma.com]
The combination of gestalt estimate of low suspicion for PE, together with the PE rule‐out criteria [PERC( ): age 1, SaO 2 95%, no hemoptysis, no estrogen use, no surgery/trauma requiring hospitalization within 4 weeks, no prior venous thromboembolism [ingentaconnect.com]
She was found to have left lower lobe consolidation and pleural effusion and was treated as a case of pneumonia. During the hospital course, her respiratory status worsened, and she was intubated on the third hospital day. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
The Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTs) videos and Ventilator-associated pneumonia lectures have been particularly popular with RTs. NPs and PAs have provided great feedback on Pneumonia Treatment and Liver Function Tests among many others. [youtube.com]
CASE PRESENTATION: A nine-year-old female with spinal muscular atrophy type 1, chronic respiratory failure with tracheostomy and ventilator dependence presented with tachypnea and hypoxia. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
[…] forward failure with decreased cardiac output hypotension and tachycardia References: Clinical features Acute onset of symptoms, often triggered by a specific event (e.g., on rising in the morning, sudden physical strain/exercise) Dyspnea and tachypnea [amboss.com]
The most common are: Acute shortness of breath; Cough; Chest pain; Tachycardia; Tachypnea; Signs of DVT. [emsworld.com]
Tachypnea and tachycardia frequently are detected, pleuritic pain sometimes may be present, crackles may be heard in the area of embolization, and local wheeze may be heard rarely. [emedicine.medscape.com]
The chest pain remained at the same level. On the day of admission, she presented to ED with vomiting, watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, chest pain, and respiratory distress. Laboratory findings showed hypoalbuminemia and proteinuria. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Ultimately, insufficient cardiac output from the RV causes left ventricular under-filling which results in systemic hypotension and cardiovascular collapse. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Neurological examination returned to base line status but sinus tachycardia and low saturation value on room air were continuing. Un-enhanced CT of the chest demonstrates hyperdense material within the right main pulmonary artery. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
The most common ECG finding in the setting of a pulmonary embolism is sinus tachycardia. However, the “S1Q3T3” pattern of acute cor pulmonale is classic; this is termed the McGinn-White Sign. [healio.com]
[…] obstruction of a pulmonary artery or one of its branches that is usually produced by a blood clot which has originated in a vein of the leg or pelvis and traveled to the lungs and that is marked by labored breathing, chest pain, fainting, rapid heart rate, cyanosis [merriam-webster.com]
The extremities reveal no evidence of edema, cyanosis or clubbing. Patient has negative Homan's Sign. Joint exam revealed shoulder movements complete in range. No warmth or tenderness noted. [meddean.luc.edu]
Pay close attention to the patient's skin; diaphoresis and clammy skin are common, and peripheral cyanosis in the hands and feet may rapidly progress to central cyanosis on the face, neck and trunk. [emsworld.com]
[…] sleep or on exertion Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting Low oxygen level in blood (hypoxemia) Fast breathing or wheezing Fast heart rate Feeling of anxiety Leg pain, redness, or swelling Low blood pressure Low-grade fever Clammy or bluish skin (cyanosis [utswmed.org]
It is characterized by dyspnea, anxiety, sudden chest pain, shock, and cyanosis. [medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com]
A gallop rhythm signifies ventricular failure, while peripheral edema is a sign of congestive heart failure. Various heart murmurs may be audible, including a tricuspid regurgitant murmur signifying pulmonary hypertension. [emedicine.medscape.com]
Some individuals may also experience uncommon symptoms such as dizziness, back pain or wheezing. Because PE can be fatal, if you experience these signs or symptoms seek medical attention right away. [vascularcures.org]
But as the week progressed so did her symptoms — back pain, chest pain, uncontrollable chills — until she could no longer ignore them. [heartinsight.heart.org]
These two conditions are usually found in patients with few or no classic symptoms such as coughing (including coughing up blood), chest or upper back pain, acute shortness of breath, or general or specific failure of the circulation that is either cardiac [doi.org]
The symptoms of pulmonary embolism often occur with, or may mimic other conditions such as heart attack, asthma, pneumonia – even a panic attack. Some people may not have any symptoms at all. This makes it difficult to diagnose. [inogen.com]
It may be hard to diagnose pulmonary embolism, because the symptoms are like those of many other problems, such as a heart attack, a panic attack, or pneumonia. [healthlinkbc.ca]
Tuberculosis Osteoarthritis Bornholm disease Rib fracture Psychological Panic attack - Chest pain is a common symptom of panic attacks, with as high as 78% of persons describing chest pain with their worst panic attacks. Overall chest pain [en.wikipedia.org]
The patient's dizziness improved in ED. Neurological examination returned to base line status but sinus tachycardia and low saturation value on room air were continuing. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
However, each individual may experience symptoms differently: Sudden shortness of breath (most common) Chest pain, usually worse with breathing A feeling of anxiety A feeling of dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting Palpitations and heart rarcing Coughing [inovaheart.org]
Others may experience shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and possibly swelling in the legs. If you have a pulmonary embolism, you need medical treatment right away to prevent a blood clot from blocking blood flow to the lungs and heart. [radiologyinfo.org]
However, each individual may experience pulmonary embolism symptoms differently: sudden shortness of breath (most common) chest pain (usually worse with breathing) a feeling of anxiety a feeling of dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting palpitations [beaumont.org]
The risk of pulmonary embolism increases with age Symptoms include chest pain, dizziness, and rapid breathing The risk of pulmonary embolism is high for individuals who have had a blood clot in the leg or arm In rare cases, a pulmonary embolism can be [medicalnewstoday.com]
Hypoxia, which may cause anxiety, restlessness, agitation and impaired consciousness. Pyrexia. Elevated jugular venous pressure. Gallop heart rhythm, a widely split second heart sound, tricuspid regurgitant murmur. Pleural rub. [patient.info]
But epinephrine also has many adverse reactions, such as agitation, restlessness, headache, tachycardia, hypertension, and some significantly more dangerous conditions including myocardial ischemia, ventricular arrhythmia, cerebral hemorrhage and pulmonary [jsms.sch.ac.kr]
A CNS toxicity phase (agitation evolving to frank seizures or CNS depression) may precede cardiovascular collapse. [doi.org]
The history and clinical examination of a case of pulmonary embolism are usually not sufficient to establish the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism with certainty. Hence, in cases of unexplained respiratory problems, certain investigations must be carried out to reach the final diagnosis .
White blood count, arterial blood gases, D dimer testing, brain natriuretic peptide, serum troponin levels and ischemia modified albumin level are potentially useful laboratory tests that can indicate the presence or absence of pulmonary embolism in the patient.
Imaging techniques that are helpful in confirming the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism include computed tomography angiography, pulmonary angiography, chest radiography, ECG, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), venography and duplex ultrasonography.
Several findings may be associated with acute PE, including pulmonary infiltrates, atelectasis, diaphragmatic elevation, pleural effusion, Westermark sign, and Hampton hump. [journals.lww.com]
Normal Chest X-Ray
A normal chest X-ray greatly increases the likelihood of a definitive VQ scan result. [clinicaladvisor.com]
Left Pleural Effusion
Echography showed slight increase in left pleural effusion. She had the same diagnosis. The chest pain remained at the same level. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Right Axis Deviation
Right axis deviation and S 1 Q 3 T 3 pattern were observed in only APE. Low voltage was more frequent in APE and TC. However, the frequencies of these findings were low. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
axis deviation T-wave inversion in the right precordial leads /- the inferior leads is seen in up to 34% of patients and is associated with high pulmonary artery pressures 25 simultaneous T-wave inversion in lead III and V1 has been repeatedly shown [radiopaedia.org]
axis deviation (30% of cases) T negativity in leads V2and V3 ( 30%) Compression Doppler ultrasound: diagnosis of potential underlying deep vein thrombosis Diagnostics for underlying cause Thrombophilia workup Malignancies References: Treatment [amboss.com]
ECG - may be normal, or show any of these changes: sinus tachycardia, atrial fibrillation, nonspecific ST or T-wave abnormalities, right ventricular strain pattern V1-3, right axis deviation, right bundle branch block (RBBB), or deep S-waves in I with [patient.info]
Other conditions include polycythemia, paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria and essential thrombocytosis amongst others. [myheart.net]
[…] include: Factor V Leiden deficiency MHFTHR mutation Protein C or Protein S deficiencies antithrombin III deficiency Homocystinemia Homocystinuria Hyperlipidemia Blood disorders Polycythemia increased number of red blood cells (the opposite of anemia) Thrombocytosis [medicinenet.com]
[…] trips or hospitalization), pregnancy, use of estrogen-containing hormonal contraceptives, postmenopausal hormones, atrial fibrillation, vascular injury, IV drug abuse, polycythemia vera, heart failure, autoimmune hemolytic anemia, sickle cell anemia, thrombocytosis [medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com]
[…] factors resulting in a hypercoagulable state Acute medical illness Drug abuse (intravenous [IV] drugs) Drug-induced lupus anticoagulant Hemolytic anemias Heparin-associated thrombocytopenia Homocystinemia Homocystinuria Hyperlipidemias Phenothiazines Thrombocytosis [emedicine.medscape.com]
[…] factors Risk factors for pulmonary embolism also include the following: Drug abuse (intravenous [IV] drugs) Drug-induced lupus anticoagulant Hemolytic anemias Heparin-associated thrombocytopenia Homocystinemia Homocystinuria Hyperlipidemias Phenothiazines Thrombocytosis [emedicine.com]
Arterial blood gas analysis showed hypoxemia-hypocapnia and D-dimer level was high. Computed tomographic pulmonary angiography (CTPA) demonstrated pulmonary embolism in both main pulmonary arteries, through lobar and segmental branches. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
[…] evaluate if there are DVTs Studies ECG findings sinus tachycardia atrial fibrillation right ventricular strain S1Q3T3 presence of S wave in lead I and Q wave and inverted T wave in lead III T-wave inversions in V1-V4 Arterial blood gas findings hypoxemia hypocapnia [medbullets.com]
[…] arterial obstruction Infarction and inflammation of the lungs and pleura Causes pleuritic chest pain and hemoptysis Leads to surfactant dysfunction atelectasis PaO2 Triggers respiratory drive hyperventilation and tachypnea respiratory alkalosis with hypocapnia [amboss.com]
Analysis of blood gases reveals arterial hypoxia and hypocapnia. Pulmonary embolism is detected by chest radiographic films, pulmonary angiography, and radioscanning of the lung fields. [medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com]
Arterial or venous blood gas measurement may show an increased alveolar to arterial oxygen (A-a) difference (sometimes called A-a gradient) or hypocapnia; one or both of these tests are moderately sensitive for PE, but neither is specific. [msdmanuals.com]
Incomplete Right Bundle Branch Block
The presence of new complete or incomplete right bundle-branch block, anteroseptal ST segment changes, or anteroseptal T-wave inversion satisfies the guideline criteria for RV dysfunction. 5 Biomarkers, specifically brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) and [circ.ahajournals.org]
The most common abnormalities observed in the study and control groups were sinus tachycardia (18.8% versus 11.8%), incomplete right bundle branch block (4.2% versus 0.0%), complete right bundle branch block (4.2% versus 6.0%), and S1Q3T3 pattern (2.1% [journals.lww.com]
right bundle-branch block, anteroseptal ST elevation or depression, or anteroseptal T-wave inversion) Myocardial necrosis is defined as either of the following: —Elevation of troponin I ( 0.4 ng/mL) or —Elevation of troponin T ( 0.1 ng/mL) Low-Risk PE [doi.org]
P pulmonale, right and left axis deviation, S 1 S 2 S 3 and S 1 Q 3 T 3 patterns, low voltage and clockwise rotation were specific, but not sensitive for APE. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Right axis deviation (R S in V1) and P-pulmonale may be present. T-wave inversion in leads V1 to V4 also occurs. [msdmanuals.com]
Abnormalities reported with acute PE include sinus tachycardia, atrial arrhythmias, low voltage, Q waves in leads III and aVF (pseudoinfarction), S1Q3T3 pattern, Qr pattern in V 1, P pulmonale, right-axis deviation, ST-segment elevation, ST-segment depression [doi.org]
Other ECG Findings
The patient refused treatment for pleural effusion and requested for discharge. At the time of discharge, shortness of breath was relieved, and the pleural effusion had decreased. The patient was lost to follow-up. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
Oligemia (the Westermark sign), prominent central pulmonary artery (the Fleischner sign), pleural-based area of increased opacity (the Hampton hump), vascular redistribution, pleural effusion, elevated diaphragm, and enlarged hilum were also poor predictors [doi.org]
In patients with suspected deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, anti-coagulant therapy is initiated immediately .
Anticoagulant therapy with heparin administration decreases the mortality rate from 30% to less than 10%. Various anti-coagulation medications include unfractionated heparin, low weight heparin, warfarin, fondaparinux and factor Xa inhibitors.
Surgical options for management of pulmonary embolism include:
- Catheter embolectomy and fragmentation or surgical embolectomy
- Placement of vena cava filters
Along with these treatment options, supportive care to the patient is ensured.
As far as the common causes of sudden death are concerned, pulmonary embolism is second only to sudden cardiac death.
Up to 10% of the patients who develop pulmonary embolism die within the first hour. Recurrence of pulmonary embolism subsequently causes death in 30% of the patients.
With appropriate anti-coagulant therapy, the mortality rate reduced to less than 5%.
More than 90% of the pulmonary emboli result from the dislodging of thrombi from the deep veins of the lower limb. Other less common sites of thrombus formation include prostatic and pelvic veins. Pulmonary emboli usually do not originate in the upper limb except in intravenous drug abusers.
The factors that predispose to venous thrombosis in the lower limbs include the following.
- Intravenous cannulation
- Use of drugs such as oral contraceptives
- Nephritic syndrome
- Ulcerative colitis
- AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) 
Inherited coagulation defects:
- Antithrombin III, Protein S and Protein C deficiency
- Smoking 
The per annum incidence of pulmonary embolism in the United States is 1 case per 1000 persons . Although most of these patients are asymptomatic, 60-80% of the patients with DVT develop pulmonary embolism.
In hospitalized patients, pulmonary embolism is the third most common cause of death (up to 650,000 deaths per year). Venous thromboembolism is a major health problem with an incidence of about 250,000 incident cases per year  .
The incidence of pulmonary embolism and the mortality occurring from it varies from country to country. A research indicates that male sex is more prone to the development of pulmonary embolism with a mortality rate 20-30% higher as compared to females. Pulmonary embolism is much more common in blacks as compared to whites .
Pulmonary emboli arise most commonly from the deep veins of the calves. Any factor or disease that cases stasis of blood in the veins can predispose to the formation of thrombi. Dislodged thrombi reach the lung after traveling through the right side of the heart.
Large emboli occlude the proximal arteries and the right ventricular outflow, causing a rapid decrease in the the cardiac output and leading to right ventricular failure. The prominent features are those of vascular collapse e.g. hypotension and syncope.
In contrast, multiple micro-emboli occlude the capillary beds of the lungs. Due to collateral vascular supply, there is no pulmonary infarction but there insidious loss of the microvascular bed supplying the gas exchange units of the lungs leading to pulmonary hypertension and right ventricular failure.
Prevention of the development of venous thromboembolism can effectively reduce the likelihood of the development of pulmonary embolism. This is done by the following measures:
Avoid venous stasis:
Venous stasis during surgery can be avoided by stimulation of the calf muscles. Following surgery, early mobilization and leg exercises are helpful in reducing the likelihood of venous thromboembolism.
Use of anticoagulants in susceptible individuals:
Pulmonary emboli are thrombi that dislodge into the lungs usually from the deep veins of the lower limbs. Less common sites of thrombus formation include the veins of the pelvis, prostate and the upper limbs.
Pulmonary emboli may be small, medium or large. Each of these cause respiratory and hemodynamic compromise by different mechanisms. Hence, pulmonary embolism is not a disease; rather it is the complication of deep venous thrombosis (DVT).
It is a life threatening emergency and needs to be diagnosed and treated promptly.
Pulmonary embolism refers to the state in which masses of clotted blood that form in the lower limbs dislodge into the lungs. Males are more prone to the development of this complication.
Smoking, obesity, decreased physical activity and intake of unbalanced diet make the person more prone to the development of pulmonary embolism. It is a very dangerous condition and the patient needs to be hospitalized immediately. High risk patients must be identified and preventive measures must be carried out.
- Malek J, Rogers R, Kufera J, Hirshon JM. Venous thromboembolic disease in the HIV-infected patient. The American journal of emergency medicine. Mar 2011;29(3):278-282.
- Stein PD, Beemath A, Matta F, et al. Clinical characteristics of patients with acute pulmonary embolism: data from PIOPED II. The American journal of medicine. Oct 2007;120(10):871-879.
- Horlander KT, Mannino DM, Leeper KV. Pulmonary embolism mortality in the United States, 1979-1998: an analysis using multiple-cause mortality data. Archives of internal medicine. Jul 28 2003;163(14):1711-1717.
- Heit JA. The epidemiology of venous thromboembolism in the community: implications for prevention and management. Journal of thrombosis and thrombolysis. Feb 2006;21(1):23-29.
- Silverstein MD, Heit JA, Mohr DN, Petterson TM, O'Fallon WM, Melton LJ, 3rd. Trends in the incidence of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism: a 25-year population-based study. Archives of internal medicine. Mar 23 1998;158(6):585-593.
- Schneider D, Lilienfeld DE, Im W. The epidemiology of pulmonary embolism: racial contrasts in incidence and in-hospital case fatality. Journal of the National Medical Association. Dec 2006;98(12):1967-1972.
- Worsley DF, Alavi A. Comprehensive analysis of the results of the PIOPED Study. Prospective Investigation of Pulmonary Embolism Diagnosis Study. Journal of nuclear medicine : official publication, Society of Nuclear Medicine. Dec 1995;36(12):2380-2387.
- Carrascosa MF, Batan AM, Novo MF. Delirium and pulmonary embolism in the elderly. Mayo Clinic proceedings. 2009;84(1):91-92.
- Torbicki A, Perrier A, Konstantinides S, et al. Guidelines on the Diagnosis and Management of Acute Pulmonary Embolism The Task Force for the Diagnosis and Management of Acute Pulmonary Embolism of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). Revista espanola de cardiologia. 2008;61(12):1330.
- Kearon C, Kahn SR, Agnelli G, et al. Antithrombotic therapy for venous thromboembolic disease: American College of Chest Physicians Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines (8th Edition). Chest. Jun 2008;133(6 Suppl):454S-545S.