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Pulmonary Embolism Symptoms

Pulmonary embolism (PE) symptoms depend on a variety of factors and vary widely from patient to patient. An embolism occurs when a blood clot (usually formed in the lower extremities) breaks free and travels through the vascular system, ultimately obstructing blood flow to the lungs. One example of how PE can occur is via deep vein thrombosis in the legs. The type and severity of symptoms will depend mostly on the size of the clot and how much of the lung is involved. Other factors include a patient’s preexisting conditions, such as heart and lung disease.

Although there are many pulmonary embolism symptoms, some of the most common include:

  • Shortness of breath and/or wheezing that occurs suddenly and worsens with exertion
  • A cough, which may involve bloody mucus
  • Chest pain that may resemble the symptoms of a heart attack and worsen with certain activities, such as breathing deeply, coughing, or bending
  • Pain in your back
  • Pain and/or swelling in the leg
  • Heart palpitations and/or rapid heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Blue nails or lips

A pulmonary embolism is a serious condition that can result in permanent lung damage or death, especially if not treated quickly. Symptoms can arise suddenly, too, so call 911 if you experience any of these symptoms.

To schedule an appointment with the Heart and Vascular Institute, call 813-844-3900 or email

At Tampa General Hospital, we have an experienced team of vascular specialists that utilizes the most advanced diagnostic and treatment technologies. Our physicians will first diagnose PE using tests such as a computed tomography (CT) scan, pulmonary angiogram, or an ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the lungs or legs. Then a treatment plan will be tailored to your specific condition. Treatment may begin non-surgically, with the administration of anticoagulant medications (to thin the blood), thrombolytic medications (to dissolve the clot), and/or compression stockings. If surgery is necessary, the procedure may involve removing the clot from the affected artery.