Pulmonary Embolism Causes

Pulmonary Embolism Causes

Pulmonary Embolisms Can Be Life-Threatening – Learn If the Associated Factors Put You at Risk

Learn what causes a pulmonary embolism, the relationship between leg and lung blood clots, and what factors may put you at risk for the development of this life-threatening blood clot.

A Pulmonary Embolism (PE) results when an artery in the lung suddenly becomes blocked. Typically, the blockage is caused by a blood clot that has travelled to the lung from another source in the body. PE is considered a serious condition that warrants emergency medical attention as it can:

  • Decrease oxygen levels in your blood.
  • Damage part of your lung due to lack of blood flow to your lung tissues, which can lead to increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries called pulmonary hypertension.
  • Damage other organs within your body due to a lack of oxygen.
  • Result in death if there are many clots or the blood clot is large.
What Causes a Pulmonary Embolism?

A PE typically begins as a deep vein thrombosis, which is a blood clot in a deep vein of your leg. If the clot should break free, it can travel through your bloodstream to your lungs, suddenly blocking an artery.

There are other causes of PE, however they are rare. They include part of a tumor, an air bubble, or other tissue within your body that travels to the lungs and causes a pulmonary embolism. In addition, should a large bone in the body become broken, such as the thigh bone, fat from the bone marrow can break off and travel through the bloodstream with the potential to reach the lungs and cause a PE.

Pulmonary Embolism Risk Factors

Certain factors make you more at risk for developing a pulmonary embolism, such as a pulmonary embolism family history or an inherited condition known as factor V Leiden. The risk also increases with age, therefore, for every 10 years after the age of 60, the risk of having a PE doubles.

When you have a deep vein thrombosis, or a family history of this condition, your risk for developing a pulmonary embolism is high. Your risk is also high if you have had a previous deep vein thrombosis.

Individuals who have had recent cancer treatments or had placement of a central venous catheter are more likely to develop leg and lung blood clots. Other risk factors include the following:

  • Inability to move around or being bedridden;
  • Undergoing surgery or breaking a bone;
  • Certain diseases or conditions that can increase your risk include chronic heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, or paralysis (the inability to move);
  • Smoking;
  • Sitting for long periods, such as a long car or airplane ride;
  • Pregnancy, including the 6 weeks after giving birth;
  • Overweight or obesity;
  • Birth control or hormone therapy pills.

When determining your risk for the development of a blood clot, it’s important to understand that your risk increases with each risk factor. Therefore, if you have five risk factors, you’re more at risk than an individual who only has one risk factor.


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