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Emboli have moved from the place where they were formed through the bloodstream to another part of the body, where they obstruct an artery and block the flow of blood. The emboli are usually formed from blood clots but are occasionally comprised of air, fat, or tumor tissue. Embolic events can be multiple and small, or single and massive. They can be life-threatening and require immediate emergency medical care. There are three general categories of emboli: arterial, gas, and pulmonary. Pulmonary emboli are the most common. Arterial embolism

In arterial emboli, blood flow is blocked at the junction of major arteries, most often at the groin, knee, or thigh. Arterial emboli are generally a complication of heart disease. An arterial embolism in the brain (cerebral embolism) causes stroke, which can be fatal. An estimated 5-14% of all strokes are caused by cerebral emboli. Arterial emboli to the extremities can lead to tissue death and amputation of the affected limb if not treated effectively within hours. Intestines and kidneys can also suffer damage from emboli.

Gas embolism

Gas emboli result from the compression of respiratory gases into the blood and other tissues due to rapid changes in environmental pressure, for example, while flying or scuba diving. As external pressure decreases, gases (like nitrogen) that are dissolved in the blood and other tissues become small bubbles that can block blood flow and cause organ damage.

Pulmonary embolism

In a pulmonary embolism, a common illness, blood flow is blocked at a pulmonary artery. When emboli block the main pulmonary artery, and in cases where there are no initial symptoms, a pulmonary embolism can quickly become fatal. According to the American Heart Association, an estimated 600,000 Americans develop pulmonary emboli annually and 60,000 die from it.

A pulmonary embolism is difficult to diagnose. Less than 10% of patients who die from a pulmonary embolism were diagnosed with the condition. More than 90% of cases of pulmonary emboli are complications of deep vein thrombosis, blood clots in the deep vein of the leg or pelvis.

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