A pulmonary embolism is a blockage in a major artery of the lungs caused by a blood clot that has traveled from the leg after breaking free from one of the veins. Small clots may cause minor tissue damage, but large ones can be life threatening, according to WebMD.
Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism occur suddenly and typically include difficulty breathing, sharp pain while taking a breath and blood-tinged mucus. Pulmonary embolism can also cause heart palpitations, profuse sweating and feelings of anxiety, WebMD explains.
Treating a pulmonary embolism quickly is key to minimizing the risk of damage or death. Treatment includes intravenous thrombolytic drugs used to dissolve and shrink the clot. It also involves the administration of anticoagulant medications that thin the blood to keep the clot from growing larger and prevent new ones from forming, reports Mayo Clinic.
If a clot is large and is threatening the life of a patient, surgery is often performed to remove it. This is done during cardiac catheterization, where a flexible tube is threaded through an artery so that the surgeon can cut the clot free and take it out. During this procedure, a filter is often inserted into the artery to keep future clots from reaching the lungs, Mayo Clinic states.