The Different Types of Pulmonary Embolism That Can Affect You

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Story at-a-glance -

  • Blood clots are the leading cause of pulmonary embolism. One of the main reasons for clotting is deep vein thrombosis that begins in your legs
  • Even though there are various types of emboli that can block an artery, the symptoms remain largely the same throughout. You may experience chest pains, sudden shortness of breath, fainting and even anxiety
  • If you experience any or a combination of these symptoms, visit a doctor right away to have yourself diagnosed and prevent further damage to your organs

There are several forms of pulmonary embolism that can develop, and they are classified depending on what kind of material gets stuck in your artery.1 Most cases of pulmonary embolism occur due to a solid matter blocking blood flow. However, it’s possible that gaseous elements can be the source of the blockage as well.

Blood Clots Are the Top Cause of Pulmonary Embolism

Blood clots are the leading cause of pulmonary embolism. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 900,000 Americans (or 1 to 2 per 1,000 people) are affected by this specific form of emboli.2

One of the main reasons for clotting is deep vein thrombosis that begins in your legs. It’s possible that your veins have been damaged due to a recent injury, or you have been inactive for an extended period of time, such as sitting on an international flight or a long road trip. As a result, a clot may form and end up in your pulmonary artery.3

Marrow From Your Bones Can Block Your Arteries

In some cases, fat from bone marrow can end up in the veins and block the pulmonary artery. When this occurs, it is known as fat embolism syndrome (FES).

Bone marrow is the soft tissue found inside your bones, and is responsible for producing blood cells. A portion of marrow contains fat, and some bones have more of it than others because they’re bigger. The thigh bones, for example, are mostly made up of fatty bone marrow tissue. When one of your thighs break, a small chunk can enter your veins and cause an obstruction.4

Tumorous Cancer Cells May Cause an Embolism

Cancer is a major risk factor for pulmonary embolism, as it often causes your blood to have a higher number of platelets and clotting factors. Experts are not sure of the link between cancer and pulmonary embolism, but they believe that cancer cells release chemicals that make more platelets, which results in an increased risk of clotting.5

Aside from increasing your risk of clots, a small bit of a cancerous tumor may dislodge and end up in your blood vessels. If the cells are 10 microns or greater in size, they may eventually clog the pulmonary artery.6 It is believed that a quarter of all patients who died from cancer are found to have tumor emboli in their arteries. Commonly associated types include:7

Kidney cancer

Liver cancer

Lung cancer

Ovarian cancer

Adenocarcinomas (breast, stomach and colon cancer)

Air Bubbles Can Enter Your Blood Vessels Through Various Means

Aside from solid matter getting stuck in your arteries, it’s very possible for gaseous substances to enter your system as well. When this happens, you develop a condition known as air embolism.8 Scuba diving is largely associated with air embolism. Holding your breath too long can cause the alveoli in your lungs to rupture, allowing air to enter your arteries. In other cases, a breathing ventilator can accidentally force air into your bloodstream due to a prior lung injury.9

Note that it’s possible for multiple bubbles to enter your body, which can result in various complications such as stroke, respiratory failure or a heart attack. If you’re an avid diver, avoid alcohol consumption before going down into the ocean and be careful when surfacing. Respiratory safety is an important aspect that should not be ignored to allow you to enjoy your hobby for a long time.10

Despite the Different Types, the Symptoms Remain the Same

Even though there are various types of emboli that can block an artery, the symptoms remain largely the same throughout. You may experience chest pains, sudden shortness of breath, fainting and even anxiety. If you experience any or a combination of these symptoms, visit a doctor right away to have yourself diagnosed and prevent further damage to your organs.11

MORE ABOUT PULMONARY EMBOLISM

Pulmonary Embolism: Introduction

What Is Pulmonary Embolism?

Pulmonary Embolism Symptoms

Pulmonary Embolism Causes

Pulmonary Embolism Types

Pulmonary Embolism Treatment

Pulmonary Embolism Prevention

Pulmonary Embolism FAQ


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