Background: We evaluated whether a highly sensitive D-dimer test is clinically useful and safe for ruling out pulmonary embolism (PE) in patients with a high clinical probability and whether adopting different cutoff values according to the clinical probability category might increase the proportion of patients in whom PE is ruled out.
Methods: We retrospectively analyzed the databases of 2 outcome studies on the diagnosis of PE with a 3-month follow-up that included 1409 patients. We evaluated the usefulness of D-dimer testing by calculating the number needed to test to rule out one PE, and its safety by measuring the 3-month thromboembolic risk in patients not treated by anticoagulant agents based on a normal D-dimer level.
Results: The sensitivity of D-dimer was 100% in all clinical probability categories, but the number needed to test increased with increasing clinical probability of PE. The 95% confidence interval (0%-23%) of the 3-month thromboembolic risk (0%) among 13 of 121 patients with a normal D-dimer level and a high clinical probability of PE was wide. Increasing the cutoff value to 700 mug/L in patients with a low clinical probability would rule out PE in an additional 5% of the entire patient cohort at the expense of a lower sensitivity (93% [95% confidence interval, 83%-97%]).
Conclusions: The safety of D-dimer testing in patients with a high clinical probability of PE is not established, and testing results are rarely negative in such patients. Increasing the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay D-dimer cutoff value only marginally increased the test's usefulness.