Recognizing the Symptoms of Fat Embolism Syndrome (FES)

It is a sadly familiar story: the parent moves the child, the child gets bumped/dropped, the child complains that something hurts (but doesn't really hurt so badly that a broken bone is suspected), and everyone goes on about their business.

Then, the child may become sleepier than usual, may start to act a little odd, and slowly develops difficulty breathing. He then becomes more confused, disoriented, agitated and has more trouble breathing until the parents realize suddenly that there is a crisis.

The symptoms of FES


Fat embolism syndrome develops quickly, and the consequences are serious and life threatening. Pneumonia and heart failure can often cause some of these same symptoms (sleepiness, shortness of breath) to develop, but symptoms with those two underlying disorders generally develop slowly. Symptoms due to fat embolism do not – the symptoms often develop, and become life threatening, in just a few hours.


If your child falls, is bumped or dropped, and develops these symptoms: 

  • Get to the emergency room fast and cry “fat embolism syndrome” until someone listens
  • Demand admittance to an ICU, not a regular floor
  • Do not allow your child to receive unopposed oxygen (give only with BiPAP)
  • Do not hesitate to agree to have your child intubated if needed for respiratory assistance
  • If you need back up, get it – call neuromuscular providers, call PPMD. We will do whatever we can to help you.


If it turns out not to be Fat Embolism Syndrome, that’s ok. It’s much better to suspect fat embolism and find pneumonia than the other way around.


Please keep a copy of the emergency card, or the emergency information on the PPMD mobile app, close at hand. Don't be afraid to be wrong and talk until someone listens.


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