Accuracy of clinical assessment in the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1999 Mar;159(3):864-71. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.159.3.9806130.


To provide clinical diagnostic criteria for pulmonary embolism (PE), we evaluated 750 consecutive patients with suspected PE who were enrolled in the Prospective Investigative Study of Acute Pulmonary Embolism Diagnosis (PISA-PED). Prior to perfusion lung scanning, patients were examined independently by six pulmonologists according to a standardized diagnostic protocol. Study design required pulmonary angiography in all patients with abnormal scans. Patients are reported as two distinct groups: a first group of 500, whose data were analyzed to derive a clinical diagnostic algorithm for PE, and a second group of 250 in whom the diagnostic algorithm was validated. PE was diagnosed by angiography in 202 (40%) of the 500 patients in the first group. A diagnostic algorithm was developed that includes the identification of three symptoms (sudden onset dyspnea, chest pain, and fainting) and their association with one or more of the following abnormalities: electrocardiographic signs of right ventricular overload, radiographic signs of oligemia, amputation of hilar artery, and pulmonary consolidations compatible with infarction. The above three symptoms (singly or in some combination) were associated with at least one of the above electrocardiographic and radiographic abnormalities in 164 (81%) of 202 patients with confirmed PE and in only 22 (7%) of 298 patients without PE. The rate of correct clinical classification was 88% (440/500). In the validation group of 250 patients the prevalence of PE was 42% (104/250). In this group, the sensitivity and specificity of the clinical diagnostic algorithm for PE were 84% (95% CI: 77 to 91%) and 95% (95% CI: 91 to 99%), respectively. The rate of correct clinical classification was 90% (225/250). Combining clinical estimates of PE, derived from the diagnostic algorithm, with independent interpretation of perfusion lung scans helps restrict the need for angiography to a minority of patients with suspected PE.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Algorithms
  • Angiography
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / blood supply
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnostic imaging
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity