Pulmonary embolism (PE) is characterized by occlusion of blood flow in a pulmonary artery, typically due to a thrombus that travels from a vein in a lower limb. The incidence of PE is approximately 60 to 120 per 100 000 people per year. Approximately 60 000 to 100 000 patients die from PE each year in the US.
PE should be considered in patients presenting with acute chest pain, shortness of breath, or syncope. The diagnosis is determined by chest imaging. In patients with a systolic blood pressure of at least 90 mm Hg, the following 3 steps can be used to evaluate a patient with possible PE: assessment of the clinical probability of PE, D-dimer testing if indicated, and chest imaging if indicated. The clinical probability of PE can be assessed using a structured score or using clinical gestalt. In patients with a probability of PE that is less than 15%, the presence of 8 clinical characteristics (age <50 years, heart rate <100/min, an oxygen saturation level of > 94%, no recent surgery or trauma, no prior venous thromboembolism event, no hemoptysis, no unilateral leg swelling, and no estrogen use) identifies patients at very low risk of PE in whom no further testing is needed. In patients with low or intermediate clinical probability, a D-dimer level of less than 500 ng/mL is associated with a posttest probability of PE less than 1.85%. In these patients, PE can be excluded without chest imaging. A further refinement of D-dimer threshold is possible in patients aged 50 years and older, and in patients with a low likelihood of PE. Patients with a high probability of PE (ie, >40% probability) should undergo chest imaging, and D-dimer testing is not necessary. In patients with PE and a systolic blood pressure of 90 mm Hg or higher, compared with heparin combined with a vitamin K antagonist such as warfarin followed by warfarin alone, direct oral anticoagulants such as apixaban, edoxaban, rivaroxaban, or dabigatran, are noninferior for treating PE and have a 0.6% lower rate of bleeding. In patients with PE and systolic blood pressure lower than 90 mm Hg, systemic thrombolysis is recommended and is associated with an 1.6% absolute reduction of mortality (from 3.9% to 2.3%).
Conclusions and Relevance
In the US, PE affects approximately 370 000 patients per year and may cause approximately 60 000 to 100 000 deaths per year. First-line therapy consists of direct oral anticoagulants such as apixaban, edoxaban, rivaroxaban, or dabigatran, with thrombolysis reserved for patients with systolic blood pressure lower than 90 mm Hg.
Freund Y, Cohen-Aubart F, Bloom B. Acute Pulmonary Embolism: A Review. JAMA. 2022;328(13):1336–1345. doi:10.1001/jama.2022.16815
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