Clinical characteristics of septic pulmonary embolism in adults: a systematic review

Respir Med. 2014 Jan;108(1):1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2013.10.012. Epub 2013 Oct 17.


Objectives: To describe the clinical characteristics of septic pulmonary embolism in adults in order to improve its diagnosis and treatment.

Methods: Specific search terms were used for retrieval from commonly used Chinese and English databases and the articles were selected in accordance with the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Cases from the included articles were pooled; then the following parameters were analyzed: major risk factors, clinical manifestations, imaging findings, characteristics of pathogenic microorganisms, complications and other clinical characteristics.

Results: After strictly selected by the inclusion and exclusion criteria, 76 articles were selected (2 Chinese articles and 74 English articles) that described 168 cases. The major risk factors for SPE were intravenous drug use (n = 44), intravascular indwelling catheter (n = 21) and skin or soft tissue purulent infection (n = 10). The most frequent clinical manifestations were fever (n = 144), dyspnea (n = 81), chest pain (n = 82) and cough (n = 69). Chest CT showed multiple peripheral nodules in both lungs (n = 89), cavitation (n = 75), focal or wedge-shaped infiltrates (n = 48) and pleural effusion (n = 40). Echocardiography often revealed vegetations (n = 52). Blood cultures grew methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) (n = 27), methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA) (n = 48) and Candida (n = 6). Seventeen cases died and 101 cases were cured.

Conclusions: SPE is a rare disease without specific clinical manifestations. For high-risk groups, such as intravenous drug users or patients with intravascular indwelling catheters, fever and imaging findings of multiple nodules or local infiltrates, with or without cavitation, are highly suggestive of SPE. Early diagnosis and prompt antimicrobial therapy or surgical intervention can lead to a successful treatment outcome.

Keywords: Clinical characteristics; Septic pulmonary embolism; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacteremia / diagnosis*
  • Bacteremia / drug therapy
  • Bacteremia / microbiology
  • Bacteremia / mortality
  • Chest Pain / etiology
  • Cough / etiology
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Fever / etiology
  • Humans
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus / isolation & purification*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / drug therapy
  • Pulmonary Embolism / microbiology
  • Pulmonary Embolism / mortality
  • Risk Factors
  • Staphylococcal Infections / complications
  • Staphylococcal Infections / diagnosis*
  • Staphylococcal Infections / drug therapy
  • Staphylococcal Infections / mortality
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents