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.
- 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
- do not sit for long periods without moving
- do not drink alcohol
- do not drink too much coffee and other caffeine-based drinks
- do not take sleeping pills