Serena Williams undergoes emergency treatment for pulmonary embolism

Tennis great Serena Williams is undergoing emergency treatment as a result of a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs). The 29 year old has had a rough time  since cutting her foot on broken glass in a restaurant in Munich on July 7. Williams was wearing sandals, and received  deep cuts on both feet. The injury also lacerated a tendon on the top of her right foot. Williams has undergone surgery twice to deal with these injuries

A representative for Ms. Williams, Nicole Chabot,  told People magazine:  “Monday Serena Williams underwent emergency treatment at Cedars for a hematoma she suffered as a result of treatment for a more critical situation… Last week, Serena suffered from a pulmonary embolism which was discovered upon her return to L.A. She had been in New York for doctor appointments for the ongoing issues with her foot.”

What is a pulmonary embolus? (Source: NHLBI)

A pulmonary embolism, or PE, is a sudden blockage in a lung artery. The blockage usually is due to a blood clot that traveled to the lung from a vein in the leg. A clot that forms in one part of the body and travels in the bloodstream to another part of the body is called an embolus.

PE is a serious condition that can cause:

  • Permanent damage to part of the lung from lack of blood flow to lung tissue
  • Low oxygen levels in the blood
  • Damage to other organs in the body from not getting enough oxygen

If a blood clot is large, or if there are many clots, PE can cause death.


In most cases, PE is a complication of a condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). In DVT, blood clots form in the deep veins of the body-most often in the legs. These clots can break free, travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, and block an artery.

Who is at risk for a pulmonary embolus?

Pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs equally in men and women. Although risk increases with age, other factors can also increase risk, such as:

  • Recent surgery
  • Long periods of immobility (such as bed rest because of an illness, long plane flights)
  • Cancer
  • Heart problems
  • Taking oral contraceptives
  • Previous stroke or heart attack

Pulmonary embolism (PE) is treated with medicines, procedures, and other therapies. The main goals of treating PE are to stop the blood clot from getting bigger and keep new clots from forming.

Treatment may include medicines to thin the blood and slow its ability to clot. If symptoms are life threatening, a doctor may use a medicine, such as TPA, to dissolve the clot more quickly. Rarely, physicians may use surgery or another procedure to remove the clot.


At least 100,000 cases of PE occur each year in the United States. PE is the third most common cause of death in hospitalized patients. If left untreated, about 30 percent of patients who have PE will die. Most of those who die do so within the first few hours of the event.

For more information about pulmonary embolism, click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on the topic.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.


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    September 14, 2011 at 11:22 am

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  2. clorinda sheridan

    September 30, 2011 at 3:20 am

    I have been trying without success to make the Williams sisters more than likely have Antophospholipid Syndrome.Both of their conditions fall under that umbrella

    I was not formally diagnosed until 2003,after having 4 PE`s by time I was thirty two, extreme fatigue,pain in joints,and DVTS.I was never in the pill,worked out had three wondeful children but there days I could not function at all. More PE`s and naturally was on coumadin from onset.although never had “normal” INR`s. About fifteen years ago, I would start out to go to one place and wind up somewhere else with no idea of how I got there. I would have myocolonic seizures of the mouth,but attributed it to fear of public speaking. All this time fatigue and pain was beoming worse. Ten years ago our daughter died and I started having full blown seizures. One neurologist told me might be mad cow disease,another suggested more sex. When I started losing huge amounts of hair attributed that to menapause.In 2003 I was taken to LVH in Allentown which is affliated with teaching hospitals in Philly.I was bleeding from every orrifice and after three week there,I was finally diagnosed with APS. along with systemic lupus and sjogrens disease. Does any of this ring a bell to you two sisters? My sister has discoid lupus and is starting with systemis lupus.
    My granddaughter has been diagnosed with seizures and cannot go on pill as this would increase danger of blood clot. Her much younger half brother was born with seizure disorder. My feeling is that they get testesd as there is a genetic component to this.
    If two strong vital woman would come through and get tested or admit to it ,can you imagine how much help and knowledge you could impart? There is a lot more but will not bore you.It is a autoimmune disorder that causes diseases that can become hereditary.
    Any help or hope you could give would be so appreciated. It is not just money that would help,but the putting a public face to go with this as most Drs do not have a clue as to what it is. To say it is frustrating would be redundant,and it is vial for you to be tested.You both have had major epidsodes.
    I do not think it would affect your careers for a while and you both have so many other business ventures couldn`t you find it in your heart to at least hear me out.Maybe go to Facebook page on Antilphospholipid Support Page.Some of the stories of vital younger women and men struck down in prime of life would leave you not jsut speechless,tearful but hopefully at least willing to talk to us.

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