The Difference in Detection: 8 Methods of Diagnosing Pulmonary Embolism

pulmonary embolism


Traveling clots causing deadly results

Among the many conditions that can ravage our vascular health, a pulmonary embolism is among the most devastating if not detected early. For those unfamilar, a pulmonary embolism is brought on when a blood clot, as a result of deep vein thrombosis, dislodges and travels to the lung, where it blocks the supply of oxygenated blood to the organ. When this happens, often times, it can either mean severe health complications, or, depending on the severity of the condition, even death.

However, while the effects of a pulmonary embolism can be severe, there are many means of detecting the condition well in advance before its symptoms progress to an uncontrollable rate. All of these tests can be done by either a medical doctor or vascular specialist, and, through different means, are able to locate and detect the level of severity and threat to a patient.


1. Chest x-ray

Through the use of a small amount of ionizing radiation, a chest x-ray is utilized to provide an internal picture of the chest. Though chest x-rays are mostly known for diagnosing conditions in the heart and chest wall, as well as conditions such as fever, shortness of breath and trauma, they are also helpful in locating the development of vascular conditions, including pulmonary embolism.

2. Electrocardiography (ECG)

When performing tests to properly locate and diagnose a pulmonary embolism, one of the many processes that can be utilized is electrocardiography (ECG). Through a means of measuring and recording the heart's electrical activity over a designated period, electrocardiography can be utilized for many purposes, including the detection of a suspected pulmonary embolism.

3. D-dimer blood test

When attempting to detect where a blood clot has broken off, a d-dimer blood test can be extremely helpful in locating where a pulmonary embolism has dislodged in the heart. By measuring a substance in the blood that is emitted when a blood clot is knocked out of its original place of development.

4. Spiral computed tomography scan (CT)

Similar to an x-ray scan, a spiral computed tomography scan (CT) is a much more detailed process of gaining computer-generated scans of the chest, bones, blood vessels, and soft tissues in the body. Used to gain a better perspective on virtually any area of the body, a CT scan can be a very helpful, assuredly-helpful method of diagnosis for a pulmonary embolism.

5. Ventilation-perfusion scan (VQ)

In a more specific method of diagnosis, a ventilation-perfusion scan (VQ) helps to highlight if the correct air and blood flow is being circulated through the lungs. Through the use of this medical test, using radioisotopes to taken an internal, two-dimensional image of the affected area, a pulmonary embolism is able to be located.

6. Duplex ultrasound

Considered by many to be one of the most effective methods of locating and diagnosing a pulmonary embolism, an ultrasound is done through a method of sending ultrasonic frequency waves (i.e. vibrations), which reflect off the organs to produce a computer-generated image of the internal structure. Also referred to as sonography, ultrasound is considered to be a safer alternative to other tests, as it uses no radiation to develop images.

7. Pulmonary angiography

Through this method, angiography is done through a means of seeing if the proper amount of blood is flowing through the lung. In order to get a proper image inside of the artery, a special dye is used that circulates through the bloodstream.

8. Venography

Though venography carries many similarities to other forms of diagnosing pulmonary embolism, there is one major method of this x-ray-based test that allows for your doctor to see if blood flow is circulating correctly. In this process, an injection of radiative dye is given tot he patient, showing the level of blood flow in the lungs, while your doctor looks for where the blockage may be located.


Through one, or even multiple tests, if necessary, a pulmonary embolism can easily be located - however, it is important to know how these tests, individually or together, can affect you. For more information regarding tests for detecting a pulmonary embolism, contact your medical doctor of vascular specialist.