Background: In patients with a low clinical probability of pulmonary embolism (PE) and a nondiagnostic lung scan, the prevalence of PE is theoretically very low. We assessed the safety and usefulness of this association for ruling out PE.
Methods: We analyzed data from 2 consecutive cohort management studies performed in 2 university hospitals (Geneva University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland, and Hospital Saint-Luc, Montreal, Quebec), which enrolled 1034 consecutive patients who came to the emergency department with clinically suspected PE. All patients were submitted to a sequential diagnostic protocol of lung scan, D-dimer testing, lower-limb venous compression ultrasonography (US), and pulmonary angiography in case of inconclusive results of noninvasive workup.
Results: The prevalence of PE was 27.6%. Empirical assessment was accurate for identifying patients with a low likelihood of PE (8.2% prevalence of PE in the low clinical probability category). One hundred eighty patients had a low clinical probability of PE and a nondiagnostic lung scan. Among these patients, US showed deep vein thrombosis in 5. Hence, PE could be ruled out by a low clinical probability, a nondiagnostic lung scan, and a normal US in 175 patients (21.5%). The 3-month thromboembolic risk in these patients was low (1.7%; 95% confidence interval, 0.4%-4.9%).
Conclusions: Anticoagulant treatment could be safely withheld in patients with a low clinical probability of PE and a nondiagnostic lung scan, provided that the US is normal. This combination of findings avoided pulmonary angiography in 21.5% of patients with suspected PE in this series.