Pulmonary embolism as a cause of cardiac arrest: presentation and outcome

Arch Intern Med. 2000 May 22;160(10):1529-35. doi: 10.1001/archinte.160.10.1529.


Background: Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a possible noncardiac cause of cardiac arrest. Mortality is very high, and often diagnosis is established only by autopsy.

Methods: In a retrospective study, we analyzed clinical presentation, diagnosis, therapy, and outcome of patients with cardiac arrest after PE admitted to the emergency department of an urban tertiary care hospital.

Results: Within 8 years, PE was found as the cause in 60 (4.8%) of 1246 cardiac arrest victims. The initial rhythm diagnosis was pulseless electrical activity in 38 (63%), asystole in 19 (32%), and ventricular fibrillation in 3 (5%) of the patients. Pronounced metabolic acidosis (median pH, 6.95, and lactate level, 16 mmol/L) was found in most patients. In 18 patients (30%), the diagnosis of PE was established only postmortem. In 42 (70%) it was diagnosed clinically, in 24 of them the diagnosis of PE was confirmed by echocardiography. In 21 patients, 100 mg of recombinant tissue-type plasminogen activator was administered as thrombolytic treatment, and 2 (10%) of these patients survived to hospital discharge. Comparison of patients of the thrombolysis group (n = 21) with those of the nonthrombolysis group (n = 21) showed a significantly higher rate of return of spontaneous circulation (81% vs 43%) in the thrombolysis group (P=.03).

Conclusions: Mortality related to cardiac arrest caused by PE is high. Echocardiography is supportive in determining PE as the cause of cardiac arrest. In view of the poor prognosis, thrombolysis should be attempted to achieve return of spontaneous circulation and probably better outcome.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Austria
  • Cause of Death
  • Echocardiography
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Heart Arrest / diagnosis
  • Heart Arrest / etiology*
  • Heart Arrest / mortality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulmonary Embolism / complications*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnosis
  • Pulmonary Embolism / mortality
  • Resuscitation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Rate
  • Thrombolytic Therapy