Pulmonary Embolism

This information is useful for adults and older adults
chest pain
Why Yale Medicine?
  • An unusual level of highly specialized expertise, with specialists dedicated specifically to treating pulmonary embolism.
  • Our doctors work across disciplines and departments to provide individualized treatment for pulmonary embolism.
  • Yale Medicine is deeply involved in pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis research, giving patients early access to innovative treatments.

Pulmonary embolism, a blockage in the lung artery, is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires quick intervention and treatment. With symptoms that resemble many other medical conditions, including heart attack and pneumonia, it can be difficult to diagnose. The condition is more likely to arise in people with certain medical conditions (including cancer, pregnancy or who have poor circulation) and is also associated with sedentary lifestyle and long periods of inactivity. If you have any symptoms that suggest pulmonary embolism, such as coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath, it's important to seek emergency medical care immediately.

Yale Medicine provides extraordinary expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary embolism. We are one of just a few medical institutions with specialists focused specifically on treating pulmonary embolism and are renowned for research that advances treatment protocols for this condition.

Pulmonary embolism is usually caused by a blood clot that has broken loose from another part of the body, often the leg, and traveled up to the lungs. This condition is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Once it’s detached, the clot may travel up the bloodstream into a lung artery, blocking it and resulting in pulmonary embolism.

Pulmonary embolism is most likely to develop from deep vein thrombosis in the legs because blood flows more directly from the legs to the lungs than it does through deep veins in other locations. “We regard PE as a complication of DVT,” says Peter S. Marshall, MPH, MD, assistant professor of medicine (pulmonary) at Yale Medicine and medical director of respiratory care at Yale New Haven Hospital.

Deep vein thrombosis symptoms may include pain, swelling, redness or weakness in the leg—all of which are causes for concern after travel, hospitalization or any extended period of immobility.

While pulmonary embolism may also be caused by other substances, such as dislodged fat or air bubbles, those occurrences are less likely.

Clinical Trials

New treatments for many conditions are tested in clinical trials, which ultimately bring lifesaving new drugs and devices to the patients who need them most. By participating in a clinical trial, you may get access to the most advanced treatments for your condition, and help determine their benefits for future patients.