Pulmonary embolism in pregnancy: CT pulmonary angiography versus perfusion scanning

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2010 Sep;195(3):W214-20. doi: 10.2214/AJR.09.3506.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the equivalence of CT pulmonary angiography and perfusion scanning in terms of diagnostic quality and negative predictive value in the imaging of pulmonary embolism (PE) in pregnancy.

Materials and methods: Between 2000 and 2007 at a university hospital and a large private hospital, 199 pregnant patients underwent 106 CT pulmonary angiographic examinations and 99 perfusion scans. Image quality was evaluated, and the findings were reread by radiologists and compared with the original clinical readings. Three-month follow-up findings of PE and deep venous thrombosis were recorded.

Results: PE was found in four of the 106 patients (3.7%) who underwent CT pulmonary angiography. The overall image quality was poor in 5.6% of cases, acceptable in 17.9%, and good in 76.4%. Fourteen CT and nine radiographic studies showed other clinically significant abnormalities. Six patients had indeterminate CT pulmonary angiographic findings, three had normal perfusion scans, and none underwent anticoagulation. All perfusion scan findings were normal. There was one incomplete study, and follow-up CT pulmonary angiography performed the same day showed PE. Two of 99 studies (2.02%) showed intermediate probability of the presence of PE; PE was not found at CT pulmonary angiography, but pneumonia was found. PE was found in one postpartum patient 9 weeks after she had undergone CT pulmonary angiography and ultrasound with normal findings. None of the patients died.

Conclusion: CT pulmonary angiography and perfusion scanning have equivalent clinical negative predictive value (99% for CT pulmonary angiography; 100% for perfusion scanning) and image quality in the care of pregnant patients. Therefore, the choice of study should be based on other considerations, such as radiation concern, radiographic results, alternative diagnosis, and equipment availability. Reducing the amount of radiation to the maternal breast favors use of perfusion scanning when the radiographic findings are normal and there is no clinical suspicion of an alternative diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Angiography / methods*
  • Contrast Media
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iohexol
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Cardiovascular / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnostic imaging*
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*


  • Contrast Media
  • Iohexol