Study objectives: Because specific studies are unavailable, the exact prevalence of detectable "residual" deep venous thrombosis (DVT) in patients with acute pulmonary embolism (PE) is unknown.
Design: Review of clinical records and radiologic documents of consecutive patients.
Setting: Pulmonary diseases and radiology departments at a university hospital.
Patients: All patients hospitalized in the Department of Pulmonary Diseases with a diagnosis of acute PE during a 5-year period (1984 to 1988). During this period, the diagnosis of PE was based exclusively on pulmonary angiography, and bilateral lower limb venography was routine in patients with proven acute PE.
Measurements and results: Among 228 consecutive patients with angiography-proven PE, 213 underwent bilateral lower limb venography within 48 h of the diagnosis. Venography demonstrated DVT in 174 patients (81.7%; 95% confidence interval, 76.5 to 86.9%), including 128 patients (60%) with proximal DVT. Signs or symptoms of DVT were present in only 72 patients (42%) with DVT. The prevalence of detectable DVT was significantly lower in patients with recent pelvic surgery or delivery (6 of 12, 50%) than in the other patients, whatever their individual risk factors (p < 0.05). The mean pulmonary vascular obstruction was significantly lower in patients with normal venography than in patients with detectable DVT (37.6 +/- 20.9% vs 48.4 +/- 21.7%; p = 0.007).
Conclusions: Lower limb venography demonstrates a high prevalence (82%) of residual DVT in patients with angiography-proven PE. These data should be taken into account in the diagnostic and therapeutic management of patients with suspected or proven PE.