Pulmonary Embolism

This specimen is a heart that has been opened to reveal the pulmonary embolism that caused the patient’s death.

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Heart specimen showing a pulmonary embolism photographed against a black background

This specimen shows a pulmonary embolism. The heart has been opened to reveal a thrombus that has entered the right ventricle, blocking the pulmonary artery. A thrombus (similar to a blood clot) originates in the legs or pelvis and travels in the blood to block vessels in the heart or lungs. Long periods of inactivity, such as hospital stays or long flights or car journeys, increase the risk of pulmonary embolism as blood collects in the lower parts of the body.

The first person to name this condition was Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902), a German scientist known for his contributions to the field of cellular pathology.  Through autopsies and experiments, he proved his hypothesis that clots could be transported through the bloodstream from veins in the leg to other vessels.

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