Risk factors for pulmonary embolism

Symptoms of pulmonary embolism can be attributed to many other health conditions. If your doctor suspects that you may have had a pulmonary embolism, he or she will evaluate whether you have one or more risk factors for developing this condition. Risk factors include:

  • A history of blood clots. If you or a member of your immediate family has had blood clots, you may be at a higher risk for developing clots that could break off and cause a pulmonary embolism.
  • Other health conditions, such as heart failure, cancer, or severe infection.
  • Recent trauma.
  • Recent surgery.
  • Placement of a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) in a large vein of your body.
  • Serious burns.
  • Use of hormone medicines, especially birth control pills or other medicines containing estrogen or containing other hormones that are like estrogen.
  • Immobilization, such as during long car trips or airplane flights, or during an illness where you have been unable to move for a long period of time.
  • Pregnancy.

Smoking and being very overweight (obese) also may increase a person's risk of developing pulmonary embolism.1

Even though a person's risk for developing pulmonary embolism may increase with the number of risk factors he or she has, the condition also occurs in people without any known risk factors.


  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2007). Prevention of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 84. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 110(2): 429–440.

Last Updated: January 29, 2009

Author: Maria G. Essig, MS, ELS

Medical Review: Caroline S. Rhoads, MD - Internal Medicine & Jeffrey S. Ginsberg, MD - Hematology

related physicians

related services

Bon Secours International| Sisters of Bon Secours USA| Bon Secours Health System

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Privacy Policy. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2010 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.