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Pulmonary embolism - Symptoms of pulmonary embolism

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Signs and symptoms of a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the artery that carries blood to the lungs) include chest pain, shortness of breath and coughing.

It can be difficult to recognise the signs and symptoms of a pulmonary embolism because they can vary between individuals. Small clots may cause no noticeable symptoms.

Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism can include:

  • chest or upper back pain - a sharp, stabbing pain that may be worse when breathing in
  • shortness of breath - which may come on suddenly or develop gradually
  • coughing - which is usually dry, but may include coughing up blood or mucus that contains blood
  • feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • fainting

Many pulmonary embolisms are caused by a blood clot in the leg, known as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), travelling towards the lungs. Therefore some people with a pulmonary embolism also have symptoms of DVT, such as pain, redness and swelling in one leg.

Seeking medical help

You should visit your GP as soon as possible if you experience any combination of the above symptoms. If it is not possible for you to visit your GP, you can call NHS 111 or you can contact your local out-of-hours service for advice.

You should dial 999 for an ambulance immediately if your symptoms are severe.

Medical Review: October 01, 2013
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