Systemic Embolism

What is Systemic Embolism?

Systemic embolism, also known as embolismus, is a serious medical condition where a clot or other material breaks away from its original location, travels through the bloodstream, and becomes trapped in a blood vessel elsewhere in the body. This can be life-threatening as it can cause severe organ damage if the vessel becomes blocked. Systemic embolism can be caused by many different conditions or diseases, such as a heart attack, infection, or even cancer.


The symptoms of systemic embolism depend largely on which organ it blocks or damages. Some common signs include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Palpitations
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Swelling in the arms and legs
  • Numbness or tingling in the affected area
  • Paralysis
  • Changes in vision or hearing
  • Unconsciousness

Causes of Systemic Embolism

Systemic embolism is caused by different types of conditions and diseases including:

  • Atherosclerosis – this is where fatty deposits build up inside your blood vessels, which can cause blood clots to form.
  • Blood disorders – some blood disorders, such as sickle cell anaemia and polycythaemia, can lead to an increase in the number of red blood cells. This can make your blood thicker, which can cause clots to form.
  • Heart attack or stroke – a heart attack or stroke can cause a part of the clot to break off and travel to another part of the body.
  • Infections – certain bacterial and viral infections can cause inflammation, which can lead to the formation of clots.
  • Birth control pills or hormone therapy – taking these types of medication can increase your risk of clotting.
  • Cancer – some types of cancer, such as leukaemia and lymphoma, can cause an increase in the number of white blood cells. This can also lead to blood clots.

Treatment for Systemic Embolism

Treatment for systemic embolism will depend on which organ is affected and the type and size of the clot. Your doctor may prescribe anticoagulants such as heparin or warfarin to prevent further clots from forming. You may also need surgery to remove the clot or medications to break it down. In some cases, depending on the size and location of the clot, it may be possible to dissolve the clot using a catheter.