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Pulmonary embolism occurs when one or more arteries in the lungs become blocked, which is often caused by blood clots that have traveled to the lungs from another area in the body. Pulmonary embolism can quickly turn life-threatening; therefore, recognizing the signs of pulmonary embolism is essential. Symptoms of pulmonary embolism vary from person to person and can occur in people who appear to be healthy. Common signs of pulmonary embolism include chest pain, shortness of breath and a cough.
Most often, pulmonary embolism is the result of a clump of material becoming lodged in an artery of the lungs, often originating from the legs. Other substances can cause this condition as well, including fat within the bone marrow, part of a tumor or air bubbles.
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Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism
The symptoms of pulmonary embolism vary from person to person, and depending on how much of the lung is affected by the clot. Symptoms are often more severe in those with underlying lung conditions or heart disease. While signs of pulmonary embolism vary, a common symptom experienced is shortness of breath. Generally, this occurs suddenly even without activity.
Other common symptoms of pulmonary embolism include chest pain, which is often described as being similar to a heart attack. The pain often worsens with breathing, coughing, bending and eating. A cough is also associated with pulmonary embolism that produces a bloody or blood streaked mucus.
Rare symptoms associated with pulmonary embolism include wheezing, rapid or irregular heartbeat and weak pulse. Leg swelling is associated with the condition as well. Clammy or bluish skin color is reported with pulmonary embolism. Other signs of the condition include excessive sweating, lightheadedness and fainting.
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Complications of Pulmonary Embolism
Pulmonary embolism is a very serious condition, even life-threatening. It's estimated one-third of those who experience pulmonary embolism and don't seek treatment don't survive. Prompt treatment is essential if you suspect this condition. Even with treatment, certain complications can still arise. Complications of pulmonary embolism include pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension occurs when the blood pressure within the lungs is too high. This causes the heart to work harder to ensure the lungs receive adequate blood flow. In return, this increases blood pressure, putting extra strain on the heart. This extra strain can lead to damage to the heart.
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Risk Factors for Pulmonary Embolism
While anyone can suffer from pulmonary embolism, certain people have a higher risk for developing the clots. Risk factors include bed rest, long journeys, age and valve malfunctions. Other risk factors for this condition are dehydration, underlying medical conditions and family history. Those who have recently undergone surgery have an increased risk, as well as those with heart disease, pregnant women and those with cancer. Certain lifestyle habits increase a person's risk for the condition as well. These lifestyle habits include smoking, obesity and supplemental estrogen.