Pulmonary embolism is one of the most common undiagnosed conditions affecting hospitalized patients. There are a plethora of risk factors for venous thromboembolism and pulmonary emboli. These factors are grouped under the broad triad of hypercoagulability, stasis and injury to provide a framework for understanding. Important risk factors include inherited thrombophilia, age, malignancy and estrogens. These risk factors are reviewed in detail and several risk assessment models are reviewed. These risk assessment models help identify those at risk for disease and therefore candidates for thromboprophylaxis. Diagnosis can be difficult and is aided by clinical decision rules that incorporate clinical scores that define the likelihood of pulmonary embolism. These are important considerations, not only for diagnostic purposes, but also to minimize excessive use of imaging, which increases exposure to and risks associated with radiation. A healthy index of suspicion is often the key to diagnosis.