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Embolism and Infarction: Differences and Similarities

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Embolism and infarction both result in the blockage of blood vessels in the body. Read this article to learn how they differ from each other.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Yash Kathuria

Published At June 20, 2023
Reviewed AtJune 28, 2023

What Is the Difference Between Embolism and Infarction?

Different kinds of blockages that can develop in blood vessels in the body are referred to in medicine as embolism and infarction, respectively. When a blood clot or another substance, such as a fat or air bubble, lodges in a blood vessel and restricts blood flow, it is known as an embolism. An embolus is a substance that obstructs the blood flow; it can move through the bloodstream from one area of the body to another before becoming lodged in a smaller blood vessel. In the event that the embolus obstructs a blood vessel in the brain, this could result in severe complications like a stroke.

On the other hand, an infarction is the term for when tissue dies from a shortage of blood supply. A blood vessel blockage, such as an embolism, or other factors, such as atherosclerosis (the narrowing of blood vessels due to the buildup of plaque) or a blood vessel spasm, may be the reason. The tissue dies because oxygen and nutrients cannot get to it due to a shortage of blood flow.

To sum up, an infarction is the death of tissue due to a lack of blood flow and can be brought on by an embolism or other causes. An embolism is the blockage of a blood vessel by a material that travels through the bloodstream.

What Is the Difference Between Pulmonary Infarction and Pulmonary Embolism?

'Pulmonary' means lungs. When infarction and embolism involve the lungs, they are called pulmonary infarction and pulmonary embolism, respectively. When a blood clot, typically from the legs or pelvis, moves through the bloodstream and lodges in one of the arteries that transport blood to the lungs, it is known as a pulmonary embolism (PE). The signs of this obstruction include shortness of breath, chest pain, bloody coughing, and a rapid heartbeat. PE is a serious condition that needs immediate medical care because it may be fatal.

On the other hand, pulmonary infarction results from a lack of blood flow to a portion of the lung, which is typically brought on by an obstruction in the pulmonary artery. Blood clots can cause this blockage, but other variables like atherosclerosis or vasculitis can also be to blame. Chest pain, a cough, and shortness of breath are signs of pulmonary infarction, which can cause similar symptoms to a pulmonary embolism.

The main distinction between these two illnesses is that pulmonary embolism (PE) happens when a blood clot stops an artery in the lungs, whereas pulmonary infarction happens when there is insufficient blood flow to a particular area of the lung. PE can result in pulmonary ischemia, but it can also happen for other reasons.

What Are the Different Types of Embolism and Infarction?

The different types of embolism are as follows:

  1. Thromboembolism: Blood clot or thrombus embolism is referred to as thromboembolism.

  2. Fat Embolism: It refers to the embolism of fat fragments.

  3. Air Embolism: An embolism of air particles is referred to as an air embolism or a gas embolism.

  4. Amniotic Fluid Embolism: It is an embolism of amniotic fluid, fetal cells, hair, or other debris that enters the mother's bloodstream through the uterine placental bed and causes an allergic response.

  5. Septic Embolism: It refers to the embolism of pus containing bacteria.

  6. Tissue Embolism: It refers to the embolism of small fragments of tissue.

  7. Foreign Body Embolism: Refers to embolism caused by foreign objects, such as talc or small objects.

The different types of infarction are as follows:

  1. Red Infarcts (Hemorrhagic Infarcts): Red infarcts are identified by hemorrhage or bleeding into the region of tissue damage. They develop in organs that have a dual blood supply or in areas where blood flow is slow. The term "red" infarct refers to the infarct's look, which is reddish due to bleeding.

  2. White Infarcts (Anemic or Pale Infarcts): White infarcts, on the other hand, develop in organs or tissues that only have one blood supply, such as the heart or brain. The blood flow in these organs is either completely or nearly completely occluded, which means there is no bleeding into the affected region. As a consequence, the infarct is pale or white in appearance. White infarcts are usually caused by a sudden interruption in blood flow, such as a blood clot or embolism.

Does Embolism Cause Infarction?

Yes, embolization can indeed lead to infarction. Blood flow to a particular region of the body may be obstructed by an embolus, which can be a blood clot, fat, air bubble, or other material that becomes lodged in a blood vessel. The tissue that is nourished by that blood vessel may not receive enough oxygen and nutrients if this obstruction lasts for a long time, which could result in its mortality or necrosis.

Is an Embolism a Stroke?

Absolutely not. An embolism is not a stroke, but it can induce one. A stroke is a medical emergency that happens when the blood supply to a portion of the brain is cut off, either because of a blockage (ischemic stroke) or because of bleeding (hemorrhagic stroke). Due to this disruption, brain cells start to die when they are deprived of oxygen and nutrients. This can cause a variety of neurological symptoms, including weakness, numbness, confusion, trouble speaking, and loss of consciousness.

On the other hand, an embolism is a form of blood vessel blockage that can happen anywhere in the body. It occurs when a blood clot or other substance (like fat or air) becomes lodged in a blood vessel and prevents blood passage to the region beyond the obstruction. By cutting off the blood supply to that region of the brain, an embolus that travels to the brain and becomes lodged in a blood vessel supplying the brain may result in a stroke. Therefore, while an embolism itself is not a stroke, it can result in one by obstructing the blood supply to the brain.


To conclude, embolism and infection both can be life-threatening medical conditions if not identified at the right time and treated. Although they sometimes manifest identical symptoms, the origin is completely different. Therefore, it is crucial to identify the cause.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is Embolism Hereditary?

Although there is usually no genetic component to embolism, there are a few disorders that may increase the risk of embolism. Blood coagulation problems are among the factors that raise the risk of embolism and may have a hereditary origin. However, the development of embolisms is frequently more significantly influenced by lifestyle factors, medical problems, and acquired risk factors.


Are Pulmonary Embolisms Hereditary?

The majority of pulmonary embolisms (PE) are not inherited. Nonetheless, a hereditary component may exist for certain risk factors for PE, such as blood clotting abnormalities. The chance of suffering a pulmonary embolism is greatly influenced by lifestyle choices, health issues, and acquired risk factors, even if genetic predispositions may also be involved. Getting medical guidance for a customized risk assessment is imperative, particularly in cases with a family history of blood clotting issues.


How Can One Know if Blood Clots Are Hereditary?

It is possible to perform genetic tests, a comprehensive medical history, and a family history analysis. It might be advised to undergo genetic testing for those with a family history of blood clots, particularly in early life, or those with repeated occurrences. This can uncover clotting disorders or hereditary illnesses, such as Factor V Leiden, that increase the risk of blood clots.


Who Is Most Susceptible to a Pulmonary Embolism?

People with a history of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), surgery, extended immobility, cancer, smoking, obesity, or a family history of blood clots are more likely to experience a pulmonary embolism (PE). Older age, pregnancy, hormonal birth control, and specific medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, are additional considerations. Recognizing and addressing these risk factors is critical to lowering the probability of a pulmonary embolism.


What Is the First-Line Treatment for Pulmonary Embolism?

Anticoagulant therapy, usually with direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) or drugs like heparin and warfarin, is the first-line treatment for pulmonary embolism (PE). These drugs stop blood clots that are already present from growing larger and from forming new ones. Thrombolytic therapy or surgical procedures may be considered interventions to remove or break up the clot in extreme situations or when anticoagulants are contraindicated.


Can One Recover From an Embolism?

With timely and suitable medical attention, people can recover from an embolism. Anticoagulant medicines are routinely used in treatment to stop new clot formation. The amount of recovery is contingent upon various factors, including the location and magnitude of the embolism, the promptness of the medical response, and the existence of underlying medical disorders. Lifestyle modifications and follow-up care may be advised to stop the recurrence and improve general health.


For What Length of Time Is an Embolism?

The size, position, and kind of embolism, as well as the success of the medical intervention, are among the many variables that affect how long an embolism lasts. Anticoagulant drug treatment may last for several weeks or months. It is possible to recommend long-term preventive measures in addition to follow-up imaging and medical evaluations to help establish whether it is safe to stop therapy.


Can Pulmonary Embolism Be Completely Cured?

The term "cure" may not apply to pulmonary embolism (PE). However, it can be properly managed and treated. It is possible to dissolve or stabilize the clot with prompt medical intervention, which may involve anticoagulant therapy and further measures in certain circumstances. To lower the risk of complications and recurrence related to pulmonary embolism, however, long-term care, treating underlying risk factors, and preventative actions are essential.


Is a Normal Life Possible Following a Pulmonary Embolism?

Yes, with the right care and lifestyle modifications, a lot of people may resume their usual lives after suffering a pulmonary embolism. Crucial components include taking prescribed drugs as directed, visiting doctors frequently, and taking care of underlying risk factors. While recovery times vary, most patients who receive the right medical care and continuous monitoring can return to their regular activities, return to work, and lead fulfilling lives.


Is Embolism Life-Long?

Even so, an embolism is not always irreversible. The body can dissolve or stabilize the clot with timely and efficient medical intervention, such as anticoagulant medication. Still, the underlying issues that raise the embolism risk could not go away. It is essential to manage these risks with medication, lifestyle modifications, and continued medical treatment to avoid long-term problems and recurrence.


For How Long Is a Pulmonary Infarction?

A pulmonary embolism causes lung tissue damage that can range in duration from a pulmonary infarction, which is caused by a lack of blood supply. Several variables come into play, including the individual's general health, the location and extent of the infarct, and the success of medical care. Weekly to monthly follow-up is necessary to evaluate healing and avert problems, as recovery can take longer than expected.


How Can Lung Infarction Be Treated?

To treat a lung infarction brought on by a pulmonary embolism, the underlying cause must be addressed in addition to the symptoms. Anticoagulant drugs like warfarin, heparin, and direct oral anticoagulants are frequently utilized to stop clot formation. Supportive interventions, including oxygen therapy and pain management, may be used. Surgery or thrombolytic treatment may be necessary in severe situations.


How Severe Is a Pulmonary Infarction?

A pulmonary infarction, caused by a pulmonary embolism that cuts off blood flow, can vary in severity. More significant respiratory problems may result from larger infarctions, whereas smaller infarctions may not cause any symptoms or just cause minor ones. To prevent problems and promote healing, prompt medical action is essential. Variations in infarctions' number, size, and location affect the total effect.


Does After-Infarction Lung Tissue Regenerate?

The injured lung tissue usually does not recover entirely following a pulmonary infarction. Rather, scar tissue production may result from the body's natural healing mechanisms in the damaged area. This scar tissue may stabilize the lung, but the tissue's entire functionality is not restored. Sustaining healing and averting complications requires constant medical supervision, dietary adjustments, and observation.
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Dr. Yash Kathuria
Dr. Yash Kathuria

Family Physician


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