Symptoms of pulmonary embolism 

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

Recognising the signs and symptoms of a pulmonary embolism can be difficult 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 – which can 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 (usually the calf).

Seeking medical help

You should visit your GP as soon as possible if you experience any combination of the above symptoms.

If it isn't possible for you to visit your GP, you can call NHS 111 or contact your local out-of-hours service for advice.

Dial 999 immediately to ask for an ambulance if your symptoms are severe.

Page last reviewed: 13/06/2015

Next review due: 13/06/2017