Pulmonary embolism

A pulmonary embolism is a blocked blood vessel in your lungs. It can be life threatening if not treated quickly.

See a GP if:

  • you feel pain in your chest or upper back
  • you have difficulty breathing
  • you're coughing up blood

You may also have pain, redness and swelling in one of your legs (usually the calf). These are symptoms of a blood clot, also called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Call 999 or go to A&E if:

  • you have severe difficulty breathing
  • your heart is beating very fast
  • someone has passed out

These could be signs of a pulmonary embolism or another serious condition.

Treating a pulmonary embolism

If your GP thinks you've got a pulmonary embolism, you'll be sent to hospital for further tests and treatment.

At hospital, you'll probably be given an injection of anticoagulant medicine before you get any test results.

Anticoagulants stop blood clots getting bigger and prevent new clots forming.

If tests confirm you have a pulmonary embolism, you'll continue with anticoagulant injections for at least 5 days.

You'll also need to take anticoagulant tablets for at least 3 months.

You can expect to make a full recovery from a pulmonary embolism if it's spotted and treated early.

Reduce your pulmonary embolism risk

You can reduce your risk of a pulmonary embolism by taking measures to prevent DVT.

A pulmonary embolism commonly occurs when part of the blood clot dislodges itself from your leg and travels up to your lungs, causing a blockage.

If you're being treated in hospital for another condition, your medical team should take steps to prevent DVT.

You can occasionally develop DVT on journeys lasting more than 6 hours.

You can take steps to reduce your risk of travel-related DVT.

Do

  • sit comfortably in your seat and lie back as much as possible
  • wear loose-fitting clothing
  • make sure you have plenty of leg room
  • drink water regularly
  • take regular breaks from sitting
  • bend and straighten legs, feet and toes every 30 minutes while seated
  • press the balls of your feet down hard against the floor every so often
  • wear flight socks

Don't

  • sit for long periods without moving
  • drink alcohol
  • drink too much coffee and other caffeine-based drinks
  • take sleeping pills

Call 111

If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.

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