Pulmonary Thromboembolic Disease

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(608) 263-5215
(608) 263-7203
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Approximately 300,000 people each year suffer from blood clots in the blood vessels of the lungs (pulmonary emboli). Some patients with pulmonary emboli develop chronic pulmonary thromboembolic disease. This is when the blood clots recur over weeks, months, or even years.

These clots block the flow of blood from the right side of the heart, through the lungs, to the left side of the heart. As this disease progresses, blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries increases, and lung function decreases. This causes shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and fatigue.

The right side of the heart also must work harder to pump blood through the lungs to the left side of the heart. This may cause chest pain and swelling of the feet or abdomen. Eventually, the right side of the heart cannot manage the high pressure in the lung, and begins to fail.

Health Information


  • Patients with chronic pulmonary thromboembolic disease are first treated with blood-thinning medications to break down the clots
  • Physicians may also place a filter in the main vein leading from the legs to the heart (the inferior vena cava). This filter helps "catch" clots before they reach the lungs.
  • In severe cases, however, the clots may become fibrous, meaning that they are made up of scar tissue. When this happens, the only way to remove them is through a surgical procedure known as Pulmonary Thromboendarterectomy.