Sign in to your account

Don't have an account?

Create an account
This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Learn more
Black medical doctor in a white coat and red stethoscope examining a patient on a ward. Our doctors on askawayhealth have years of clinical experience to provide top notch care.

Need to check your symptoms?

Use our symptom checker to help determine what your symptoms are and to ensure you get the help you need.

Check your symptoms


Request a reset

Don't have an account?

Create an account


Reset your password

Don't have an account?

Create an account


Pulmonary Embolism – It happened to Serena Williams.

October 15, 2018

Updated April 2023

Serena Williams hardly needs an introduction. Famous, talented, and arguably the best female tennis player of our age.

But did you know the famous star almost died just after having her baby?

Pulmonary Embolism cn happen in women who are pregnant or just delivered- heavily pregnant woman in a rich closefitting red dress.

Yes, the news could have been so very different.

The thing is; the problem she developed just after the birth of her baby that could have led to death is not a rare condition.

Let’s learn something about this condition known as Pulmonary Embolism:

It can affect many women suddenly after an (apparently) normal pregnancy, labour and childbirth.

Pulmonary Embolism (PE) is a serious medical condition. It can kill very quickly.

Drawing of the Heart, Lungs and Circulation in Humans

What is Pulmonary Embolism?

Pulmonary Embolism (PE) is a condition when a blood clot blocks one of the blood vessels in the lungs.

If left untreated, it is quickly fatal.

Below we list the symptoms using these graphics, but most commonly, it’s the development of :

Sudden Breathlessness and significant Chest Pain, Coughing with bloody Phleghm

What are the symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism - listed on graphic

Who gets Pulmonary Embolism?

It can happen in both men and women, but certain factors increase the risk of its occurrence.

One of these factors is pregnancy, where the story of Serena’s experience comes in.

In an interview with Vogue magazine in January 2018, Serena reveals the details of her experience barely 24 hours after having her baby by an emergency Caesarean Section.

Some of the excerpts are shown below, but the entire interview is a great read:

Serena Williams Pulmonary Embolism Story
Pulmonary Embolism Serena William's story

Background details

Now, some background is important because we don’t want you to get the idea PE only happens in pregnant women.

In 2011, Serena sustained an injury from an accidental cut to her leg.

It’s reported that following this, she went on to develop a PE.

How could PE develop from an ordinary leg wound or cut?

Risk factors for developing PE

In Serena, we do not know specifically, but it is possible that her movement was generally restricted while the injury was healing.

She may also have suffered from one of the certain blood conditions that increase the risk of developing PE.

In some people with conditions like Protein S or Protein C deficiency, there is a lack of factors that prevent blood clotting.

So having this condition increases the risk of developing a clot – Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT) or PE.

Some of the other conditions that increase the risk of a PE are:

  • Having had a blood clot in the past
  • Being immobile for a long period (up to 3 months ).
    • For example, if bedridden after surgery or an accident;
    • or people who are bed-bound for other reasons – advancing age and disability
  • Having Cancer – this changes the ability of blood to clot effectively and makes clots more likely.
  • Pregnancy – during and up to 6 weeks after birth.

What a Pregnant Woman should know

So Serena already knew she was at risk of having another PE at any time because she had one in 2011.

Being pregnant further added to that risk.

Having already been through a significant stressful birth i.e a Caesarean Section, she became suddenly breathless the following day – while still in the hospital.

Does this sound familiar? You may have heard of a woman who suddenly died after childbirth.

‘Dr Williams’ as Serena jokingly referred to herself in the Vogue interview, identified her symptoms correctly,

However, according to her – she had an extra job to convince her US-based medical team of what was going on and what she needed.

Thankfully, they did eventually listen, and she rapidly got a CT Scan to confirm her suspicions and the blood-thinning medication she needed to dissolve the clot and save her life.


Now let’s pause and consider her circumstance – she is a wealthy and influential black woman in one of the most developed countries in the world.

Regardless, she found herself minutes away from death IF they didn’t correctly identify and treat her.

Now in low-resource areas, there are structural healthcare challenges as well as poor general education.

Sometimes PE doesn’t present with the usual symptoms, which makes its diagnosis and treatment more challenging.

We want women to be aware of this condition so we can get better at identifying those at risk and take necessary precautions.

While we don’t have studies to show how often this kills pregnant women in Nigeria, as this study on African populations shows, there is a significant risk – VTE Study

If you found this post helpful (and we hope you did), please share it with others so we can have wider discussions about this condition.

Comments and questions are welcome.

Read More:

Pregnancy and Your Risk of Heart Disease

Dealing with Covid-19 In Pregnancy (RCOG guidelines)

Editing by AskAwayHealth Team


All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising Medical Practitioners on a wide range of healthcare conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality healthcare

The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified healthcare practitioner.
Please contact a health practitioner or contact us directly to discuss your condition.

Image Credit – Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Share this blog article

On this page

Let us know what you think

Want to know how your comment data is processed? Learn more

Access over 600 resources & our monthly newsletter.

Askawayhealth 2023 grant recipient from European Union Development Fund

Askawayhealth, 2023 Award Recipient

Our educational content meets the standards set by the NHS in their Standard for Creating Health Content guidance.

Askawayhealth aims to deliver reliable and evidence based women's health, family health and sexual health information in a way that is easily relatable and easy for everyone to access.

Askawayhealth symptom Checker tool image

Utilize our complimentary symptom checker tool to gain more information about any uncertain symptoms you might have.