What are the possible presentations of pulmonary embolism (PE)?

Updated: Sep 18, 2020
  • Author: Daniel R Ouellette, MD, FCCP; Chief Editor: Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP  more...
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The classic presentation of PE is the abrupt onset of pleuritic chest pain, shortness of breath, and hypoxia. However, most patients with pulmonary embolism have no obvious symptoms at presentation. Rather, symptoms may vary from sudden catastrophic hemodynamic collapse to gradually progressive dyspnea. The diagnosis of pulmonary embolism should be suspected in patients with respiratory symptoms unexplained by an alternative diagnosis.

Patients with pulmonary embolism may present with atypical symptoms, such as the following:

  • Seizures

  • Syncope

  • Abdominal pain

  • Fever

  • Productive cough

  • Wheezing

  • Decreasing level of consciousness

  • New onset of atrial fibrillation

  • Hemoptysis

  • Flank pain [1]

  • Delirium (in elderly patients) [2]

See Clinical Presentation for more detail.

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