Embolisms Types and Facts

When something breaks loose into the bloodstream and travels around, it is called an embolus. After the embolus comes to a place too small for it to pass through,...

When something breaks loose into the bloodstream and travels around, it is called an embolus. After the embolus comes to a place too small for it to pass through, it creates a blockage called an embolism. The cells on the opposite side can’t receive blood circulation and start to die from lack of oxygen.

While embolisms are often brought on by a thrombus, or blood clot, that break loose, you will find other particles that may lead to a problem. Here’s a look at the many kinds of embolisms. 


Once a thrombus breaks loose, it turns into a thromboembolus. Deep vein thrombosis, where a blood clot forms in the veins–generally in the legs–is the most frequent cause of thrombus-related embolisms. 

  • Pulmonary Embolism: 

Sometimes the embolus will end up in the lungs. A pulmonary embolism results when the embolus blocks the main arteries entering the lungs. Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism may include coughing, difficulty breathing, or chest pain like that of a heart attack. 

  • Arterial Embolism:

Arterial embolisms happen when the embolus becomes lodged in an artery, often at the extremities or less commonly from the organs. Indications of an arterial embolism may include coldness, pallor, a lack of heartbeat, twitching, numbness, tingling, weakness, or pain at the affected extremity. Finally, the skin in the region may start to blister, necrose, fall off, or develop gangrene. Affected organs might be painful or stop working well.

  • Brain Embolism:

An embolus can also travel all the way to the brain. The lack of oxygen may cause an ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), which might be evident by nausea, unsteadiness, disorientation, blurry vision, speech problems, a headache, or weakness or lack of motion in 1 side of the body. 

  • Retinal Embolism:

The blood vessels behind the eye are much more compact than other cells, meaning emboli which may fit through most pathways in the body can get stuck in the arteries that lead to the retina. Blindness in the eye may occur. 

Additional Embolisms

Other kinds of particles besides blood clots may get enmeshed in vessels. These kinds of embolisms can be just as harmful as those resulting from moving thrombus. 

  • Air Embolism:

Seen most frequently in scuba divers who do not take the time to grow slowly to the surface of the water, an air embolism occurs when a bubble of air blocks the veins, rather than a blood clot. The air bubble may float in the heart, brain, or lungs, much like a blood clot. Signs of an air embolism may include heart or respiratory failure, seizures, confusion, a blue color to the skin, pain, or a fall in blood pressure.

  • Septic Embolism:

Infection from the body can get into the bloodstream, allowing bacteria to come into contact with an embolus. Pus can grow in the veins. According to the National Institute of Health,”intro-vascular apparatus (like catheters) may also become sources of disease.” There can be no symptoms of a septic embolism, and it can be tough to diagnose. 

  • Amniotic Fluid Embolism:

During the birthing process, the amniotic fluid and cells in the uterus can get into the mother’s bloodstream, causing an immune system response that leads to abnormal clotting. The specific cause is unknown. Amniotic embolisms may go to the lungs, or lead to other severe and life threatening symptoms for both mother and baby. 

  • Fat Embolism:

Pieces of fat or bone marrow may also enter the bloodstream and cause an embolism. Surgeries and broken bones are common culprits of fat embolisms. Symptoms may be similar to those of other embolisms. Moreover, the skin can develop a blue tinge, known as cyanosis.

  • Cholesterol Embolism:

Plaque, a selection of cholesterol and other detritus, can form in the veins, resulting in a condition called atherosclerosis. The cholesterol in the plaque may come loose and traveling in the veins until it turns into an embolism. Cyanosis is also common in this condition.

  • Foreign Body Embolism:

It’s possible for other tiny bits of things to enter the bloodstream. When this occurs, the foreign body can cause an embolism somewhere within the body.