The Human Body

Embolism

Embolism is an obstruction of a blood vessel by an embolus, or foreign substance, that has been transported by the circulatory system. The embolus may be a blood clot, an air bubble, a fat globule, a clump of bacteria, a tumor cell, a piece of foreign matter such as a bullet fragment, or a portion of a parasite such as a tapeworm. The result is an infarct, an area of dead tissue caused by obstruction of the flow of blood to the body cells in an area fed by no collateral system. Infarction may damage the heart or brain, causing heart failure or paralysis.

Thrombosis differs from embolism in that a thrombus consisting of a blood clot, or clump of blood cells, forms inside the affected blood vessel; a fragment of a thrombus becomes an embolus if it is dislodged and moves through the bloodstream to create an obstruction, or embolism. Thrombosis may be obviated and thrombi prevented from growing by the use of anticlotting drugs, such as aspirin, coumarin, or heparin. See Artery; Aerospace Medicine.