Serena Williams had a pulmonary embolism — what’s that?
A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that has traveled from somewhere else in the body and become lodged in the lungs. In many cases the embolism is instantly fatal as oxygen is unable to circulate from the lungs and then throughout the body. Serena is very lucky.
Pulmonary Embolisms usually start in the legs or abdomen and travel up through large blood vessels deep in the body and then get lodged in the smaller vessels in the lungs. A person who gets a pulmonar embolism might get suddenly short of breath and have severe stabbing pains in the chest. Sometimes the blockage caused by the embolism can cause heart rhythm disturbances and often cardiac arrest. Often the embolisms form in the heart and travel either to the lungs or directly to the brain where they cause a stroke.
Blood clots can form in the legs or anwhere for many reasons but the chief reason is immobility — like sitting in an airplane or car for hours without standing and using your leg muscles. Blood pools in the legs and can clot. This is called a DVT or Deep Vein Thrombosis. Many people are killed each year by DVTs and that’s why it is important to do isometric exercises with your lower leg muscles when you are confined in a plane, a car, or anywhere you can’t move around.
These clots for the most part are caused by immobility but there are a large number of bodily conditions that make someone more likely to get a pulmonary embolism. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pulmonary-embolism/DS00429 <—- read this from TheMayoClinic.