Purpose: Patients with nephrotic syndrome (NS) have an increased tendency to develop thrombosis and even to progress to pulmonary embolism (PE). This study was performed to determine the incidence of PE in NS with severe hypoalbuminemia and to investigate the possible role of ventilation-perfusion (V/Q) lung scans to evaluate these patients.
Methods: Eighty-nine patients with NS (serum albumin concentration < 2 g/dl) and risk factors for PE were studied. In all patients, the probability that PE would develop was assessed based on the results of V/Q lung scans (Xe-133 for ventilation and Tc-99m MAA for perfusion imaging). The lung scans were judged using the modified Prospective Investigation of Pulmonary Embolism Diagnosis criteria. In 25 (28%) patients whose lung scans showed an intermediate or low probability, but for whom there was a strong clinical indication of PE, pulmonary angiography was performed. The patients' clinical symptoms and signs on initial examination were observed. Additional examinations included electrocardiograms, chest radiography, and hematochemical tests such as albumin, blood urea nitrogen, creatinine, cholesterol, triglycerides, fibrinogen, antithrombin III, prothrombin time, and activated partial thromboplastin time.
Results: Based on the findings of lung scans, 19 (21%) of the patients were categorized as having a high probability of PE. However, pulmonary angiography found that 10 (11%) other patients had PE despite having lung scan findings categorized as intermediate or low probability of PE. Except for plasma fibrinogen and antithrombin III levels, neither the clinical symptoms and signs, electrocardiogram findings, chest radiograph results, nor values of hematochemical testing were consistent with the occurrence of PE in these 29 patients.
Conclusion: The results of this study suggest that PE is not a rare complication in patients with NS, and is usually clinically silent. In this series, the occurrence of PE did not appear to be always correlated with the clinical or hematochemical severity of NS, except for the association with elevated levels of fibrinogen and antithrombin III. When treating the clinical symptoms of patients with NS, physicians should be alert to the possible complication of PE. Serial V/Q lung scans may provide valuable clues in the evaluation of these patients.