Systematic lung scans reveal a high frequency of silent pulmonary embolism in patients with proximal deep venous thrombosis

Arch Intern Med. 2000 Jan 24;160(2):159-64. doi: 10.1001/archinte.160.2.159.


Background: A high frequency of asymptomatic pulmonary embolism (PE) has been reported in patients with deep venous thrombosis (DVT) in studies of a limited number of patients using varying criteria for lung scan assessment.

Objectives: To estimate the frequency of PE using systematic lung scans in a large group of outpatients with DVT and to compare the results using varying lung scan assessment criteria.

Methods: An international multicenter study comparing 2 different regimens of low-molecular-weight heparin nadroparin in DVT: perfusion lung scans were performed in 622 outpatients with no clinical indication of PE and with proximal DVT confirmed by venography. Three hundred seventy-nine of these patients underwent ventilation lung scans. High-probability (HP) scans for PE were assessed separately using either ventilation scans or chest radiographs to define mismatched perfusion defects.

Results: Perfusion scans showed abnormalities in 82% of the patients; 59% had segmental defects and 30% had normal scans or scans with a very low probability of PE. Depending on the criteria used, 32% to 45% had HP scans for PE; these percentages were higher in young patients. No relationship was found between extent of thrombosis and HP scans. The estimated frequency of silent PE was 39.5% to 49.5%. During a 3-month follow-up period during which the patients received therapy, the rate of PE recurrence was low (1.3%) and did not differ between patients with baseline HP scans and those with normal scans.

Conclusions: Regardless of what interpretative criteria are used for assessing lung scans in PE, the frequency of silent PE is 40% to 50% in patients with DVT. A baseline lung scan may easily detect PE in these patients but is not useful for predicting early thromboembolic recurrences that may occur during therapy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / etiology
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Venous Thrombosis / complications*