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  • Writer's pictureNathalia Zambakari

Pulmonary Embolism — Everything You Should Know

Updated: May 16, 2023

Desert Haven Home Care and Apollo Residential Assisted Living provide residents with high-quality supervision and treatment reflective of what we believe should be the three cornerstones of managed care for seniors: meaningful, patient-centered care, service and advocacy. Our staff and professional healthcare practitioners are knowledgeable and respected servants, familiar with the latest evidence-based research and outcomes. As we continue to provide our residents with best-quality care, service and advocacy, we are sharing with you – through our websites – these timely and topical insights into issues that impact our elderly loved ones. And, while an embolism can be a serious health challenge, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risks associated with the disease and to slow its progress, which are discussed below.

Pulmonary Embolism — Everything You Should Know

A pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening. According to recent statistics, death occurs in about one-third of patients who go untreated or undiagnosed.[1,2] However, permanent lung damage, the result of reduced blood flow to the lungs, can be prevented by immediate emergency treatment.

The following provides an overview of pulmonary embolism, its causes, associated risk factors, treatment and prevention.

What is a pulmonary embolism?

In simple words, a pulmonary embolism happens when there is a blockage of a blood vessel in your lungs. This blockage is caused by a thrombus or blood clot that was formed originally in the deep veins of the legs, detached from its location in the vein and traveled up to the lungs.[3]

Because of the blockage of the blood vessel, the blood supply to the lungs is restricted. This restricted blood supply is the cause of lung damage. Damaged lungs do not function properly, leading to a decrease in oxygen levels in the blood and affecting other organs as well.

Causes and risk factors of pulmonary embolism

There are several factors that can lead to a pulmonary embolism. Most of the time, pulmonary embolisms are caused by deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a medical condition in which blood clots are formed in the deep veins of the body like the deep veins of the legs or pelvis.

Injury or trauma is the most common cause of pulmonary embolism. Injuries like bone fractures or muscle damage can cause vascular damage leading to the formation of blood clots.

Limited muscular activity can also lead to the formation of blood clots in deep veins. A person at bed rest for long periods is more likely to develop blood clots, as gravity causes stagnation or stasis of blood in the lowest areas of his body.[4]

Some health/medical conditions can promote clotting of blood in the deep veins. Among these are major surgeries and chemotherapy treatments for cancer. Other conditions include genetic factors. As an example, if you have a family history of embolisms, your body has a more-than-normal affinity toward blood clot formation.

Any markable cardiac history, such as myocardial infarction or stroke, may progress to clot formation and eventually, pulmonary embolism. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are also important risk factors. And, risk factors increase with age.

How do I know if I have pulmonary embolism?

Major signs and symptoms depend on the size and location of the clot in the blood vessels of the lung. However, the most common symptom, irrespective of size and location of the clot, is shortness of breath.

Other important symptoms are:

  • Chest pain that may travel upwards to neck, jaw, shoulder, or arm.

  • Cold, clammy skin.

  • Irregular heartbeat.

  • Dizziness.

  • Lightheadedness.

  • Anxiety.

  • Rapid and shallow breathing.

  • Irritability.

  • Feeble pulse.


Sometimes, a pulmonary embolism is difficult to diagnose, especially in cases when the patient has an underlying lung or heart condition such as hypertension or emphysema.

In most cases, if you are experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, your doctor will probably perform some tests like a chest X-ray, electrocardiography (ECG), MRI, pulmonary angiography, CT scan, venography or a D-dimer test. Such tests are designed to diagnose your condition and trouble-shoot areas of concern. Early diagnosis is a plus in any disease treatment.

How can pulmonary embolism be treated?

Again, your treatment depends upon the size and location of a blood clot in lung vessels. In cases where the clot is small, medications designed to break up the clot are most often prescribed. Anticoagulants (blood thinners) or thrombolytics (clot dissolvers) can be recommended immediately.[5] However, in the case of larger, more problematic clots, surgical remedies are treatment options. In a surgical treatment, a vein filter may be inserted to stop the clot from advancing upward into the lungs, or removal of the clot itself may be recommended.[6]

How can pulmonary embolism be prevented?

Fortunately, a pulmonary embolism is preventable with healthy lifestyle choices and proper prevention measures.7 Following sensible, simple steps toward a healthy lifestyle can help prevent the chances of a pulmonary embolism, just as it can help to stave off other diseases.

  • If you are obese, reconsider your dietary choices and eating habits, taking action to reduce your weight.[8]

  • If you smoke, quit; it’s that simple. Smokers increase their risk of lung disease, including lung cancer. But they also increase their risk of other illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and mouth (oral) cancer.[9] If there is a family history that includes pulmonary embolism, tell your doctor, so they may take the appropriate precautions with your healthcare.

  • Make certain your diet consists of quality foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Establish an exercise regimen endorsed by your doctor.

  • Consult your doctor about your vitamin E intake. Vitamin E is a nutrient that's important to vision, reproduction, and the health of your blood, brain and skin, and can be found in wheat germ, sunflower, safflower and soybean oil; sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts and peanut butter; beet greens collard greens and spinach; pumpkin, red bell pepper and asparagus; and mango and avocado, to name but a few.

The importance of patient advocacy

Patient advocacy and the positive, necessary role it can play in rehabilitation and quality of life matters, is often overlooked.

[s1] Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine notes, “Healthcare advocates give patients and their families direct, customized assistance in navigating the healthcare system.”[10] Patient advocacy, therefore is a critical ingredient in managed-care assisted living environments like Desert Haven Home Care and Apollo Residential Assisted Living; it is a cornerstone of our pledge to our residents, their families and loved ones: Care. Service. Advocacy. The many layers in today’s healthcare system have created a real need for several types of healthcare advocacy, although such advocacy and the positive, necessary role it can play in rehabilitation and quality of life matters, is often overlooked. In fact, a Harvard Business Review analysis found that 52 percent of patients in the U.S. cannot navigate the healthcare system’s complexity without help.[11] Without the worries of fighting your way through the healthcare system, you are able to focus more completely on your well-being and your management and treatment necessities, knowing that an advocate is working on your behalf with your medical team, healthcare agencies and companies; monitoring and confirming medication needs, arranging for targeted care that addresses specific challenges; and more.


Blood clots can lead to pulmonary embolism. In some cases, such an embolism can be fatal. But, it often can be prevented by taking simple steps toward a healthy lifestyle. However, if you feel any of the symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, the best step to take is to contact your doctor immediately.


The material presented in this blog does not constitute medical advice. We encourage you to consult your primary care physician. The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always consult your personal physician for specific medical advice. If you or your loved one is considering the benefits of quality assisted living, please contact us at 602-670-9326, or email us at

About the authors

Dr. Christopher Zambakari, B.S., MBA, M.I.S., LP.D.

Dr. Zambakari is the owner and operator of Desert Haven Home Care in Phoenix and Apollo Assisted Living in Glendale. A recognized leader in managed-care assisted living advocacy on behalf of the elderly, Zambakari provides experienced direction and oversight to ensure the care facilities provide the highest levels of customized care, administered by respectful licensed medical and caregiving professionals.

Nathalia Zambakari, Board Certified AGACNP-BC

Nathalia Zambakari is a board-certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner and a licensed medical professional responsible for short-term care patients suffering from severe conditions. As part of the Desert Haven/Apollo care team, she reviews the medical records of incoming residents, helping the professional staff to manage patient regimens. She leads evidence-based caregiver education to ensure the best care possible for the Desert Haven and Apollo residential communities’ residents.


[1] J. Lucena et al., “Pulmonary embolism and sudden-unexpected death: Prospective study on 2477 forensic autopsies performed at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Seville,” J. Forensic Leg. Med., vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 196–201, May 2009, doi: 10.1016/j.jflm.2008.08.015.

[2] M. Swaroop and A. Tarbox, “Pulmonary embolism,” Int. J. Crit. Illn. Inj. Sci., vol. 3, no. 1, p. 69, 2013, doi: 10.4103/2229-5151.109427.

[3] M. Turetz, A. T. Sideris, O. A. Friedman, N. Triphathi, and J. M. Horowitz, “Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, and Natural History of Pulmonary Embolism,” Semin. Intervent. Radiol., vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 92–98, Jun. 2018, doi: 10.1055/s-0038-1642036.

[4] “Venous Thromboembolism | NHLBI, NIH.” (accessed Jun. 08, 2021).

[5] B. Rivera-Lebron et al., “Diagnosis, Treatment and Follow Up of Acute Pulmonary Embolism: Consensus Practice from the PERT Consortium,” Clinical and Applied Thrombosis/Hemostasis, vol. 25. SAGE Publications Inc., Jun. 10, 2019, doi: 10.1177/1076029619853037.

[6] Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Inferior Vena Cava IVC) Filter Placement." (accessed June 20, 2021).

[7] N. L. Browse, M. L. Thomas, M. J. Solan, and A. E. Young, “Prevention of Recurrent Pulmonary Embolism,” Br. Med. J., vol. 3, no. 5667, pp. 382–386, Aug. 1969, doi: 10.1136/bmj.3.5667.382.

[8] S. K. Galson, “Surgeon general’s perspectives,” Public Health Reports, vol. 123, no. 4. Association of Schools of Public Health, pp. 420–421, 2008, doi: 10.1177/003335490812300402.

[9] Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Smoking and Respiratory Diseases." (accessed June 21, 2021).

[10] Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. "Why Healthcare Advocacy is Important." March 1, 2021. (accessed June 21, 2021).

[11] Ibid.

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