Pulmonary Embolism |Symptoms | MedStar Health

A blood clot that lowers blood flow to the lungs

A pulmonary embolism, or PE, is a blockage in one of the arteries in your lungs. In most cases, this blockage is caused by a blood clot called a deep vein thrombosis that travels to the lungs from the legs or arms.


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A pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening, as it lowers blood flow and oxygen levels in the lungs. Our vascular surgery doctors are leaders in the mid-Atlantic region for treating vascular conditions such as pulmonary embolisms.

What are the symptoms of a pulmonary embolism?

Pulmonary embolism symptoms can vary depending on the size of the blockage. It’s also possible to not notice any symptoms. Symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain that can feel like a heart attack

  • Clammy or bluish skin

  • Cough that may include bloody mucus

  • Feeling faint or dizzy

  • Sudden shortness of breath, especially when you’re active

Get emergency help right away if you notice any of these symptoms.


Your doctor may use a blood test to measure oxygen and carbon dioxide levels and to look for a substance called D-dimer, which can indicate an increased risk for blood clots. Your doctor may also order a chest X-ray or other diagnostic tests.

Arterial Duplex Ultrasound for Arms and Legs

Arterial duplex ultrasound uses doppler and traditional ultrasound to assess blood flow in the arteries of your arms and legs.

Chest X-ray

Chest X-rays use a small dose of radiation to create pictures of the structures inside the chest, including the lungs, heart and chest wall.

Computerized Tomography (CT)  Scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets, and computer technology to create images of your heart and blood vessels.


You may need to take medications to dissolve the blood clot in your lungs and keep new blood clots from forming. Your doctor may recommend implanting a special filter in your main vein from the lungs to the heart to keep future blood clots from getting into the lungs. If your pulmonary embolism is life-threatening, you may need surgery to remove the embolism.

Pulmonary Embolism Treatment

Treatment for pulmonary embolisms can include medication to dissolve and prevent blood clots and surgical procedures to remove them.

Ask MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

Have general questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net. If you have clinically-specific questions, please contact your physician’s office.