What is a Pulmonary Embolism (PE)?


What is a Pulmonary EmbolismOverview: A pulmonary embolism is when there is an obstruction that blocks the flow of blood in one the arteries in the lungs, impeding the body’s ability to receive oxygen. In most cases, this blockage is caused by a blood clot in the leg that has broken off and traveled up to the lungs. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, pulmonary embolism affects an estimated 300,000 to 600,000 people in the United States every year.   


Pulmonary embolism is usually a complication that arises from deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that occurs in one of the deep veins of the leg; together, these two related conditions are referred to as venous thromboembolism (VTE). However, PE can also be caused by a blockage from substances other than blood clots, such as fat from the marrow of a broken bone, a piece of a tumor or air bubbles. The risk of a PE is increased in individuals who have a history of DVT. Other risk factors include smoking, conditions such as stroke, chronic heart disease or high blood pressure, being bedridden, having surgery or breaking a bone.

Pulmonary embolism, along with DVT, is also related to the use of Yaz, Yasmin and other oral contraceptives that contain the synthetic hormone drospirenone; a chemical that has been associated with an increased risk of blood clots. In April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated the label to warn about these dangers. According to the new label, studies indicate that Yaz and Yasmin users may be three times more likely to develop blood clots compared to women who used alternative forms of birth control.


A pulmonary embolism may cause:

  • Sudden, unexplained shortness of breath
  • Coughing up pinking or foamy mucus
  • Sharp chest pain that may get worse when you breathe deeply

Seeking Treatment

Seek medical attention immediately if you think you have a pulmonary embolism. PE can be a life-threatening condition, but with early detection and prompt treatment, the risk of death can be greatly reduced. Tell your doctor if you’ve been taking Yaz, Yasmin or another type of birth control pill containing drospirenone. If your situation appears life-threatening, your physician may use a medication to dissolve the blood clot. In rare instances, surgery may also be performed.