Who is affected by pulmonary embolism

Approximately 600,000 people in the United States are estimated to develop pulmonary embolism each year. People who have a history of having blood clots are at a higher risk for developing them again. Approximately 20% of people who develop a new pulmonary embolism will have recurrent pulmonary embolism.1 As many as 300,000 people in the U.S. die from pulmonary embolism each year.2

Pulmonary embolism affects white people more often than other races. The condition occurs in people of all ages, even children. But the risk increases with age. Most people are at a greater risk for pulmonary embolism after age 40. Women have a slightly higher risk during pregnancy and for a short time after pregnancy.3 The risk is also higher for women who take estrogen or estrogen-like hormones for birth control or to decrease the symptoms of menopause.4, 5


  1. Lee LC, Shah K (2001). Clinical manifestation of pulmonary embolism. Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America, 19(4): 925–942.
  2. Tapson VF (2008). Acute pulmonary embolism. New England Journal of Medicine, 358(10): 1037–1052.
  3. Hyers TM (1999). Venous thromboembolism. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 159(2): 1–14.
  4. Grady D, et al. (2000). Postmenopausal hormone therapy increases risk for venous thromboembolic disease: The heart and estrogen/progestin replacement study. Annals of Internal Medicine, 132(9): 689–696.
  5. Task Force for the Diagnosis and Management of Acute Pulmonary Embolism, European Society of Cardiology (2008). Guidelines on the diagnosis and management of acute pulmonary embolism. European Heart Journal, 29: 2276–2315. Available online: http://www.escardio.org/guidelines-surveys/esc-guidelines/GuidelinesDocuments/guidelines-APE-FT.pdf.

Last Updated: January 29, 2009

Author: Maria G. Essig, MS, ELS

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

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