Principle mechanisms underlying venous thromboembolism: epidemiology, risk factors, pathophysiology and pathogenesis

Respiration. 2003 Jan-Feb;70(1):7-30. doi: 10.1159/000068427.


Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) are distinct but related aspects of the same dynamic disease process known as venous thromboembolism (VTE). An estimated 200,000 new cases occur in the United States every year, including 94,000 with PE, resulting in an incidence of 23 per 100,000 patients per year-cases. Without treatment, pulmonary embolism is associated with a mortality rate of approximately 30%, causing nearly 50,000 deaths per year. Moreover, based on post-mortem studies, two-thirds of the patients with pulmonary emboli remain undiagnosed. Clinically, PE may present as (1) isolated dyspnea, (2) pleuritic pain and/or hemoptysis, and (3) circulatory collapse. However, clinical history and examination can be notoriously misleading in reaching a diagnosis. A number of acquired etiologic risk factors (predispositions) are associated with a tendency to develop VTE. These include increasing age, immobilization, surgery, trauma, hospital or nursing home confinement, malignancy, neurologic disease with extremity paresis, as well as certain types of oral contraception and hormone replacement therapy. In addition, a variety of genetic risk factors, such as factor V Leiden, protein S or C deficiency have also been identified. However, in at least half of the instances, no predisposing factors can be identified (idiopathic PE). In the majority of cases thromboemboli originate in the deep veins of the calf or pelvis. The pathogenic conditions for VTE comprise a triad of factors and include (1) venous stasis, (2) hypercoagulable states, and (3) vascular endothelium injury. Occlusion of pulmonary arteries has variable and transient clinical and pathophysiologic consequences, involving both mechanical and reflex effects of vascular occlusion with a consecutive perfusion defect as well as the release of vasoactive and other inflammatory mediators. The objectives of this article are to present an overview of the etiologic and pathogenic factors promoting VTE as well as the pathophysiologic and inflammatory processes following PE.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Comorbidity
  • Cytokines / physiology
  • Humans
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnosis
  • Pulmonary Embolism / epidemiology*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / physiopathology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Venous Thrombosis / diagnosis
  • Venous Thrombosis / epidemiology*
  • Venous Thrombosis / physiopathology*


  • Cytokines