Embolus

Define Embolus

Embolus is a detached intravascular mass travelling from its origin through the blood stream. It is capable of clogging the capillary beds and can get stuck in the brain, lungs, heart and any other area of the body that may result to a more severe complication.


The embolus may travel to another area of the body and may come through a passage in which they cannot fit in. When this happen, the embolus will lodge and blocking off the blood supply in the affected area starving it from oxygen. Insufficiency in oxygen will cause the cell to die or the condition called ischemia. The condition of oxygen starvation due to lodging of an embolus is called embolism.

Thrombus vs. Embolus

Throumbus is a solid mass of platelets and other components of blood that accumulated or form in a vessel. It is a blood clot that is formed within the blood vessel that obstructs the normal blood flow. Blood clot that is formed within the vessel and obstructing the blood supply is a condition called thrombosis.

Embolus is a particle that breaks away from the blood clot and travels through the blood stream farther to its origin. It is a complication of thrombosis and is capable of blocking capillary beds and other parts of the body. Embolism is the condition from the embolus that has lodged in any part of the body and may result into a more severe complication.

thrombus vs embolus differencePicture : Difference between thrombus and embolus

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Embolus has two types of movement or direction and these are:

  1. Anterograde – embolus travels or moves according to the blood flow
  2. Retrograde – the direction of the embolus is opposite the direction of the blood flow significant in blood vessels of low pressure or the embolus is of high weight

Embolus Classification and Types

Embolus is classified according to its point of entrance in the circulation and these consist of:

  1. Arterial – embolus enters in the circulation through the artery and lodged in a more distal part of the systemic circulation
  2. Venous – embolus is formed or enter the circulation through the vein
  3. Paradoxical – also known as cross embolism wherein the embolus crosses the artery from the vein and this can only be found in heart problems

Type of embolus is specified according to where the embolus has lodged from its point of origin. The condition of an embolus obstructing blood supply is called an embolism and the different types are:

Pulmonary Embolism. This is the main complication of deep vein thrombosis. The embolus is usually formed in the leg and lodges in the artery of the lungs. Pulmonary embolism is most common and potentially fatal. This condition occurs without specific signs and symptoms. Identification of embolism in the pulmonary can either be classified as acute, occluding a vessel, or chronic, if the embolus is unusual and adjacent with the vessel wall.

Brain Embolism

Embolus that is stuck in the blood vessel of the brain is called brain embolism. The embolus disrupts the blood supply in the brain depriving it of oxygen. Oxygen deprivation in the brain will cause it to die within two minutes. Oxygen deprivation will result to brain damage which leads to specific impairment depending on the part of the brain that is affected by embolus. Motor sensory is mostly affected and memory loss may also happen.

Retinal Embolism

Occlusion of the retinal artery is usually caused by embolism of the retinal artery. Embolus can lodge in smaller vessel such as of the retinal artery. The occlusion usually causes blindness on one eye. Embolus can also travel to distant artery of the retina and may result to loss of vision in a section of visual field. The condition of retinal embolism is an emergency condition as retinal occlusion may lead to permanent blindness if not give immediate medical attention.

Septic Embolism

There is embolus that contains bacterial infection and this is termed as septic embolus. The bacterial infected embolus will form pus that is typically dangerous when it breaks away from its original site. The condition of septic embolism is potentially fatal. Fusobacterium necrophorum is one of the most common microbes that can spread septic embolus. This bacterium is common in the oral cavity. Septic embolus is most commonly harbored from extrapulmonary location that has been infected for a period of time.

Amniotic Embolism

Embolism of amniotic is an amniotic fluid that can reach and lodged pregnant woman’s lungs. It is a rare obstetric emergency in which amniotic fluid or other debris enters the maternal circulation that can lead to cardiorespiratory collapse.

Air Embolism

Air embolism may be potentially fatal especially when large amount of gas or air blocks the blood flow in the vasculature. It occurs when the air enters the systemic venous circulation and moves to the right ventricle or pulmonary circulation. Air embolism is the occurrence of gas bubbles in the bloodstream and is incidental during surgical procedures. The condition is fatal when a large bubble of gas enters the heart blocking the ventricle. It may also occur during rapid decompression such as in deep sea diving and any other decompressing accidents.

air embolismPicture : Air embolism

image source: nevadahyperbarics.com

Fat Embolism

This type of embolism occurs when droplets of fat tissue or bone marrow passes the bloodstream as a result of either mechanical obstruction or biochemical injury. The minute embolus can lead to pulmonary or cerebral microvasculature occlusion. Fat embolism is mostly caused by physical injury such as long bone fracture, soft tissue trauma and burns. Mechanical obstruction defined in fat metabolism refers to result of physical obstruction of the pulmonary and systemic vasculature with fat embolus. Biochemical injury is due to circulating fatty acids that are directly toxic to pneumocytes and capillary endothelium in the lungs that can lead to interstitial hemorrhage, edema and chemical pneumonitis.

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