Impact of delay in clinical presentation on the diagnostic management and prognosis of patients with suspected pulmonary embolism

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2013 Jun 15;187(12):1369-73. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201212-2219OC.


Rationale: The nonspecific clinical presentation of pulmonary embolism (PE) frequently leads to delay in its diagnosis.

Objectives: This study aimed to assess the impact of delay in presentation on the diagnostic management and clinical outcome of patients with suspected PE.

Methods: In 4,044 consecutive patients with suspected PE, patients presenting more than 7 days from the onset of symptoms were contrasted with those presenting within 7 days as regards the safety of excluding PE on the basis of a clinical decision rule combined with D-dimer testing. Patients were followed for 3 months to assess the rates of recurrent venous thromboembolism and mortality.

Measurements and main results: A delayed presentation (presentation >7 d) was present in 754 (18.6%) of the patients. The failure rate of an unlikely clinical probability and normal D-dimer test was 0.5% (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.01-2.7) for patients with and 0.5% (95% CI, 0.2-1.2) for those without diagnostic delay. D-dimer testing yielded a sensitivity of 99% (95% CI, 96-99%) and 98% (95% CI, 97-99%) in these groups, respectively. Patients with PE with diagnostic delay more frequently had centrally located PE (41% vs. 26%; P < 0.001). The cumulative rates of recurrent venous thromboembolism (4.6% vs. 2.7%; P = 0.14) and mortality (7.6% vs. 6.6%; P = 0.31) were not different for patients with and without delayed presentation.

Conclusions: PE can be safely excluded based on a clinical decision rule and D-dimer testing in patients with a delayed clinical presentation. A delayed presentation for patients who survived acute PE was associated with a more central PE location, although this did not affect the clinical outcome at 3 months.

MeSH terms

  • Delayed Diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnosis*