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Embolism vs. Embolus — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Maham Liaqat — Updated on April 22, 2024
Embolism refers to the obstruction of a blood vessel by an embolus, a traveling clot or debris; embolus describes the actual material causing the blockage.
Embolism vs. Embolus — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Embolism and Embolus


Key Differences

Embolism is a medical condition characterized by the blocking of a blood vessel due to foreign substances, like blood clots, air bubbles, or fat, traveling through the bloodstream. On the other hand, an embolus is the name given to these traveling particles themselves, which can originate from various parts of the body and are carried to different locations, causing potential blockages.
An embolus can consist of different materials such as blood clots, air bubbles, or pieces of fat or tumor. Whereas embolism is the process and state that results when an embolus lodges in a vessel, preventing normal blood flow and causing health issues ranging from minor complications to severe outcomes like stroke or pulmonary embolism.
The formation of an embolus often occurs in the heart, legs, or pelvis, particularly in conditions that slow down or complicate blood flow, leading to clotting. Conversely, embolism describes the event that follows the embolus reaching a narrow part of the circulatory system, which can critically impair organ function and health.
In diagnosing an embolism, medical professionals look for signs of blockage and impaired blood flow using imaging technologies and clinical evaluation. Meanwhile, identifying the type of embolus involved is crucial for determining the appropriate treatment, which may vary significantly depending on the material composing the embolus.
Treatment for an embolism might include medications to dissolve the embolus or surgical intervention to remove it. However, the specifics of the embolus its size, composition, and location greatly influence the medical approach taken, underlining the interdependent nature of embolus and embolism in medical scenarios.

Comparison Chart


A medical condition where a vessel is blocked
The actual material causing the blockage


Refers to the state caused by an embolus
Can be a blood clot, air, fat, or other debris


Typically the result of an embolus traveling and lodging in vessels
Originates often from clots in veins or heart


Detected through symptoms and imaging of blocked flow
Identified based on its type and source via diagnostic imaging


Involves addressing the blockage, often with drugs or surgery
Treatment focuses on removing or dissolving the embolus

Compare with Definitions


A blockage in an arterial or venous blood vessel due to an embolus.
The sudden onset of chest pain suggested the possibility of a pulmonary embolism.


A traveling particle in the bloodstream that causes blockages.
An embolus dislodged from her leg veins during the flight.


Potentially life-threatening when affecting critical organs like the lungs or brain.
He was treated immediately for a suspected cerebral embolism.


Its detection is crucial for preventing subsequent embolism.
Ultrasonography helped detect the embolus in her deep vein.


Treated with anticoagulants, thrombolytics, or surgical intervention.
The doctors administered thrombolytics to treat her embolism.


Can be composed of different materials like blood clots, fat, or air.
The postoperative embolus was suspected to be a small fat globule.


Diagnosed through clinical evaluation and imaging technologies.
The MRI confirmed the presence of an embolism in the patient's brain artery.


Originates from various body regions, commonly the legs or heart.
The embolus that caused his stroke originated from the left atrium.


A condition causing organ dysfunction due to impaired blood flow.
An embolism in her leg caused severe pain and swelling.


Specific treatments depend on the type and location of the embolus.
Surgery was required to remove the large pulmonary embolus.


An embolism is the lodging of an embolus, a blockage-causing piece of material, inside a blood vessel. The embolus may be a blood clot (thrombus), a fat globule (fat embolism), a bubble of air or other gas (gas embolism), amniotic fluid (amniotic fluid embolism), or foreign material.


An embolus (; plural emboli; from the Greek ἔμβολος "wedge", "plug") is an unattached mass that travels through the bloodstream and is capable of creating blockages. When an embolus occludes a blood vessel, it is called an embolism or embolic event.


Obstruction or occlusion of a blood vessel by an embolus.


A mass, such as an air bubble, a detached blood clot, or a foreign body, that travels through the bloodstream and lodges so as to obstruct or occlude a blood vessel.


An embolus.


(pathology) An obstruction causing an embolism: a blood clot, air bubble or other matter carried by the bloodstream and causing a blockage or occlusion of a blood vessel.


(pathology) An obstruction or occlusion of an artery by an embolus, that is by a blood clot, air bubble or other matter that has been transported by the blood stream.


(zoology) The structure on the end of the palp of male arachnids which contains the opening to the ejaculatory duct.


The insertion or intercalation of days into the calendar in order to correct the error arising from the difference between the civil year and the solar year.


Something inserted, as a wedge; the piston or sucker of a pump or syringe.


An intercalated prayer for deliverance from evil coming after the Lord's Prayer.


A plug of some substance lodged in a blood vessel, being brought thither by the blood current. It consists most frequently of a clot of fibrin, a detached shred of a morbid growth, a globule of fat, or a microscopic organism.


Intercalation; the insertion of days, months, or years, in an account of time, to produce regularity; as, the embolism of a lunar month in the Greek year.


An abnormal particle (e.g. an air bubble or part of a clot) circulating in the blood


Intercalated time.


The occlusion of a blood vessel by an embolus. Embolism in the brain often produces sudden unconsciousness and paralysis.


An insertion into a calendar


Occlusion of a blood vessel by an embolus (a loose clot or air bubble or other particle)

Common Curiosities

What causes an embolism?

An embolism is caused by an embolus that lodges in a blood vessel, blocking blood flow.

How is an embolism treated?

Treatment for embolism may involve anticoagulants, thrombolytics, or surgical procedures to remove the blockage.

How can an embolus be detected?

An embolus is typically detected through imaging techniques such as ultrasound or CT scans.

What are common types of emboli?

Common types of emboli include blood clots, air bubbles, fat droplets, and amniotic fluid.

What symptoms are associated with an embolism?

Symptoms of embolism may include pain, swelling, discoloration, shortness of breath, or neurological deficits.

What is the difference between thrombus and embolus?

A thrombus is a blood clot that forms in situ within a blood vessel, while an embolus is a clot or other debris that travels and causes blockages elsewhere.

Is pulmonary embolism serious?

Pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

Can embolism be prevented?

Preventing embolism involves managing risk factors, such as using anticoagulants post-surgery and avoiding prolonged immobility.

Are there non-surgical treatments for embolism?

Yes, non-surgical treatments include medications like blood thinners and thrombolytic agents.

Can embolism affect the brain?

Yes, when an embolus blocks blood vessels in the brain, it can lead to a stroke, which is a type of cerebral embolism.

What factors increase the risk of forming an embolus?

Risk factors for embolus formation include prolonged immobility, surgery, certain heart diseases, and clotting disorders.

What is the prognosis for someone with an embolism?

The prognosis varies depending on the location and severity of the embolism but can improve with prompt and appropriate treatment.

How do doctors decide on the treatment for embolism?

Treatment decisions are based on the type, location, and severity of the embolism, as well as the patient's overall health.

What diagnostic tests are used for detecting embolism?

Diagnostic tests for embolism include Doppler ultrasound, CT pulmonary angiography, and MRI.

Can embolism recur?

Yes, individuals with certain conditions or predispositions may experience recurrent episodes of embolism.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Maham Liaqat

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