Background: The presence of right heart thromboemboli complicating pulmonary thromboemboli carries with it an increased mortality rate compared to pulmonary thromboemboli alone, but little is known about the optimal management of this difficult clinical situation. This fact is highlighted in the case study of a patient with a 19-cm right atrial thrombus complicating bilateral pulmonary thromboemboli.
Study objectives: We sought to determine the effects of anticoagulation therapy, thrombolysis, and surgical embolectomy on mortality rate in patients with right heart thromboemboli.
Design: Retrospective analysis of all reported cases in the English language literature (1966 to 2000) of right heart thromboembolism in which age, sex, therapy, and outcome were reported.
Measurements and results: We analyzed 177 cases of right heart thromboembolism. Pulmonary thromboembolism was present in 98% of the cases. The patients were evenly divided by gender with an average age of 59.8 years (SD, 16.6 years) years. Dyspnea (54.2%), chest pain (22.6%), and syncope (17.5%) were the most common presenting symptoms. The treatments administered were none (9%), anticoagulation therapy (35.0%), surgical procedure (35.6%), or thrombolytic therapy (19.8%). The overall mortality rate was 27.1%. The mortality rate associated with no therapy, anticoagulation therapy, surgical embolectomy, and thrombolysis was 100.0%, 28.6%, 23.8%, and 11.3%, respectively. Using multivariate modeling with survival as the primary outcome, age and gender were not associated with mortality rate, but thrombolytic therapy was associated with an improved survival rate (p < 0.05) when compared either to anticoagulation therapy or surgery.
Conclusion: The presence of right heart thromboemboli may have diagnostic and therapeutic implications in pulmonary thromboembolism patients. A well-designed prospective, randomized trial is needed to determine the optimal treatment of right heart thromboemboli.