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A Pulmonary Embolus is a blocked artery in the lungs. The most common cause of the block is a blood clot.


A pulmonary embolus is most often caused by a blood clot that develops in a vein outside the lungs. The most common blood clot is one in a deep vein of the thigh or in the pelvis. This type of clot is called a deep vein thrombosis. The blood clot breaks off and travels to the lungs.

Less common causes include air bubbles, fat droplets, amniotic fluid or clumps of parasites or tumor cells.

You are more likely to get this condition if you or your family has a history of blood clots or certain clotting disorders. A pulmonary embolus may occur:

  • After childbirth
  • After a heart attack, heart surgery or a stroke
  • After severe injuries, burns or fractures of the hips or thigh bone
  • After surgery, most commonly bone, joint or brain surgery
  • During or after a long plane or car ride
  • If you have cancer
  • If you take birth control pills or estrogen therapy

Disorders that may lead to blood clots include:

  • Diseases of the immune system that make it harder for the blood to clot.
  • Inherited disorders that make the blood more likely to clot.


Main symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include chest pain that may be:

  • Under the breastbone or on one side
  • Sharp or stabbing
  • Burning, aching or a dull, heavy sensation
  • Worse with deep breathing

You may bend over or hold your chest in response to the pain.

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