Negative spiral CT in acute pulmonary embolism

Acta Radiol. 2002 Sep;43(5):486-91.


Purpose: To retrospectively evaluate the clinical outcome of non-anticoagulated patients with clinically suspected acute pulmonary embolism (PE) and no symptoms or signs of deep venous thrombosis (DVT) following a negative contrast medium-enhanced spiral CT of the pulmonary arteries (s-CTPA).

Material and methods: During a 24-month period, 739 of 751 patients underwent s-CTPA with acceptable diagnostic quality for clinically suspected acute PE. All patients who had a CT study not positive for PE were followed up with a questionnaire, a telephone interview and review of all medical reports, including autopsies and death certificates for any episodes of venous thromboembolism (VTE) during a 3-month period.

Results: PE was diagnosed in 158 patients. Of the remaining 581 patients with a negative s-CTPA, 45 patients were lost to follow-up. 88 patients were excluded because of anticoagulation treatment (cardiac disorder n=32, chronic VTE or acute symptomatic DVT n=31, PE diagnosed at pulmonary angiography n=1, thrombus prophylaxis during diagnostic work-up or other reasons than VTE n=24) and 7 patients undergoing lower extremity venous studies because of symptoms of DVT (all negative). Thus, 441 patients with a negative s-CTPA and no DVT symptoms, venous studies or anticoagulant treatment constituted the follow-up cohort. Four of these patients had proven VTE (all PE) during the 3-month follow-up period. Two of the PE episodes contributed to the patient's death.

Conclusion: Patients with clinically suspected acute PE, no symptoms or signs of DVT and a negative single slice s-CTPA using 3-5 mm collimation, may safely be left without anticoagulation treatment unless they are critically ill, have a limited cardiopulmonary reserve and/or if a high clinical suspicion remains.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnostic imaging*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*