Clinical, laboratory, roentgenographic, and electrocardiographic findings in patients with acute pulmonary embolism and no pre-existing cardiac or pulmonary disease

Chest. 1991 Sep;100(3):598-603. doi: 10.1378/chest.100.3.598.


The history, physical examination, chest radiograph, electrocardiogram and blood gases were evaluated in patients with suspected acute pulmonary embolism (PE) and no history or evidence of pre-existing cardiac or pulmonary disease. The investigation focused upon patients with no previous cardiac or pulmonary disease in order to evaluate the clinical characteristics that were due only to PE. Acute PE was present in 117 patients and PE was excluded in 248 patients. Among the patients with PE, dyspnea or tachypnea (greater than or equal to 20/min) was present in 105 of 117 (90 percent). Dyspnea, hemoptysis, or pleuritic pain was present in 107 of 117 (91 percent). The partial pressure of oxygen in arterial blood on room air was less than 80 mm Hg in 65 of 88 (74 percent). The alveolar-arterial oxygen gradient was greater than 20 mm Hg in 76 of 88 (86 percent). The chest radiograph was abnormal in 98 of 117 (84 percent). Atelectasis and/or pulmonary parenchymal abnormalities were most common, 79 of 117 (68 percent). Nonspecific ST segment or T wave change was the most common electrocardiographic abnormality, in 44 of 89 (49 percent). Dyspnea, tachypnea, or signs of deep venous thrombosis was present in 107 of 117 (91 percent). Dyspnea or tachypnea or pleuritic pain was present in 113 of 117 (97 percent). Dyspnea or tachypnea or pleuritic pain was present in 113 of 117 (97 percent). Dyspnea or tachypnea or pleuritic pain or atelectasis or a parenchymal abnormality on the chest radiograph was present in 115 of 117 (98 percent). In conclusion, among the patients with pulmonary embolism that were identified, only a small percentage did not have these important manifestations or combinations of manifestations. Clinical evaluation, though nonspecific, is of considerable value in the selection of patients in whom there is a need for further diagnostic studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Carbon Dioxide / blood
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Heart Diseases / complications
  • Heart Diseases / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / complications
  • Lung Diseases / diagnosis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Pulmonary Embolism / blood
  • Pulmonary Embolism / complications
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnostic imaging
  • Radiography, Thoracic*


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Oxygen