Embolism is a condition when a blood vessel is blocked by a foreign substance, such as a blood clot, air bubble or cholesterol. This condition can be dangerous and must be treated immediately, especially if it occurs in the lungs or brain.

The body has three types of vessels that function to regulate blood flow, namely arteries, veins, and capillaries. Blood circulation starts from the arteries that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to flow throughout the body.

Furthermore, the blood carried by the arteries is channeled into the capillaries, which are small vessels that play a role in the process of exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide. After the oxygen in the blood is distributed, the oxygen-poor blood is then channeled into the veins to be flowed back to the heart.

When the blood vessels in an organ are blocked, the function of that organ will be disrupted. If not handled properly, this blockage can cause permanent damage to the organ.

Causes of Embolism

An embolism occurs when a blood vessel is blocked by a foreign object or substance. The following are substances that can cause an embolism to form:


Gas or air bubbles that cause blockages in blood vessels occur in decompression sickness . This condition is usually experienced by divers who rise to the surface too quickly.

Blood clot

Blood clots generally occur naturally when an injury occurs. However, blood clots can also occur without injury, for example in pregnancy, obesity, heart disease, or cancer .

Excessive blood clotting can lead to the formation of clots that can block blood vessels.


Blood clots due to atherosclerosis can be released into blood vessels so that they have the potential to get stuck and clog blood vessels in other locations.


Fractures can make the fat in the bone detach and enter the blood vessels. As a result, the fat can clog blood vessels.

Amniotic fluid

Although rare, amniotic fluid can leak and enter the mother's blood vessels, causing blockages.

Embolic risk factors

There are several factors that can increase a person's risk of developing an embolism, namely:

  • Smoke
  • Aged 60 years or older
  • Is pregnant
  • Suffering from obesity or overweight
  • Being inactive for a long time, for example due to hospitalization
  • Have a history of heart disease , abnormalities in the veins, atrial fibrillation , cancer or diabetes
  • Suffering from a severe infection or inflammation
  • Are undergoing hormone therapy

Embolism Symptoms

The symptoms of an embolism depend on the type and location of the blocked blood vessel, and how it affects blood flow. The larger the size of the blocked blood vessel, the more severe the symptoms are.

Embolism can occur without symptoms or even cause dangerous conditions. Examples of symptoms of an embolism that could be a sign of an emergency include:

1. Pulmonary embolism , the symptoms of which include:

  • Chest pain
  • Hard to breathe
  • Bleeding cough
  • Dizzy
  • A cold sweat
  • Bluish skin ( cyanosis )
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat ( tachycardia )
  • Loss of consciousness or fainting

2. Stroke (brain embolism), which is characterized by:

  • Asymmetrical face
  • Paralysis of limbs
  • Disturbances in speech

3. DVT ( deep vein thrombosis ), whose symptoms include:

  • Swelling and pain in one leg
  • Pain in the blocked area
  • Warm feeling in the blocked area
  • Redness of the skin on the embolized leg

When to see a doctor

Embolism can result in pulmonary embolism, heart attack , stroke, or DVT. This condition is classified as an emergency and must be treated quickly.

Immediately call an ambulance at number 119 if you or someone around you has the above symptoms. If possible, go to the emergency room immediately to get help.

Embolism Diagnostics

The doctor will ask about the patient's symptoms, medical history, and overall health condition. After that, the doctor will carry out several tests to confirm the diagnosis, namely:

  • blood test
  • Scanning with an MRI or CT scan
  • Venography, which is a scan using X-rays to see the condition of the veins
  • Arteriogram, namely scanning with X-rays to see the condition of the arteries, with the help of a contrast dye
  • Doppler ultrasound
  • Cardiac test
  • Pulmonary and heart function tests

Embolism Treatment

Treatment of emboli depends on the size of the emboli, as well as the location and cause of the blockage. Treatment methods can be by administering drugs or surgical procedures. Here is the explanation:


The drugs used in the treatment of embolism work to control the formation of blood clots and normalize blood flow to the affected organs. Some of the types of drugs used are:

  • Anticoagulants , such as warfarin and heparin , to prevent blood clots
  • Antiplatelets , such as aspirin and clopidogrel , to prevent new clots from forming
  • Clotting-breaking drugs ( fibrinolytics ), such as alteplase , to dissolve clotted blood
  • Painkillers and sedatives, to relieve pain


The doctor will suggest surgery if the embolism is severe or cannot be treated with medication. Operation methods that can be performed are:

  • Angioplasty
    Angioplasty is performed by inserting a small balloon into a blood vessel and then inflating it. The goal is to dilate blocked blood vessels.
  • Arterial bypass
    Arterial bypass aims to graft additional blood vessels in blocked arteries. This can be done by taking a vein from another part of the body or by using an artificial tube.
  • Embolectomy
    Embolectomy aims to remove clots in blood vessels using a catheter or through open surgery
  • Inferior vena cava filter (IVC)
    In this procedure, the doctor implants a special mesh-shaped instrument in the vein. The goal is to filter out blood clots and prevent them from spreading to other organs.

Emboli complications

Emboli that are not treated can cause dangerous complications that can be life threatening. Complications that can occur depend on the type and location of the blocked blood vessels, as well as the patient's condition. Some of these complications are:

  • Organ damage due to lack of oxygen
  • Infection due to organ death (gangrene)
  • Amputation of hand or foot
  • Permanent disability
  • Brain, heart, or lung damage
  • Shock
  • Sudden death

Embolism Prevention

There are several things you can do to reduce the risk of embolism, namely by:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Drink enough water
  • Adopting a healthy and balanced diet
  • Limit salt intake with a low salt diet
  • Maintain ideal body weight
  • Quit smoking and don't drink alcohol
  • Don't sit too long or move less actively
  • Undergo regular health checks
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