Pulmonary embolism - Symptoms 

Symptoms of pulmonary embolism 

Signs and symptoms of a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the artery that carries blood to the lungs) include chest pain, shortness of breath and coughing.

It can be difficult to recognise the signs and symptoms of a pulmonary embolism because they can vary between individuals. Small clots may cause no noticeable symptoms.

Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism can include:

  • chest or upper back pain – a sharp, stabbing pain that may be worse when breathing in
  • shortness of breath – this may come on suddenly or develop gradually
  • coughing – this is usually dry, but may include coughing up blood or mucus that contains blood
  • feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • fainting

Many pulmonary embolisms are caused by a blood clot in the leg, known as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), travelling towards the lungs. Some people with a pulmonary embolism therefore also have symptoms of DVT, such as pain, redness and swelling in one leg.

Seeking medical help

You should visit your GP as soon as possible if you experience any combination of the above symptoms. If it is not possible for you to visit your GP, you can call NHS 111 or contact your local out-of-hours service for advice.

You should dial 999 for an ambulance immediately if your symptoms are severe.

Page last reviewed: 02/10/2013

Next review due: 02/10/2015

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'I got DVT from flying'

Mark Pownall developed deep vein thrombosis (DVT) on a long-haul flight from New Orleans to London