Prevalence of Pulmonary Embolism Among Emergency Department Patients With Syncope: A Multicenter Prospective Cohort Study

Ann Emerg Med. 2019 May;73(5):500-510. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2018.12.005. Epub 2019 Jan 26.


Study objective: The prevalence of pulmonary embolism among patients with syncope is understudied. In accordance with a recent study with an exceptionally high pulmonary embolism prevalence, some advocate evaluating all syncope patients for pulmonary embolism, including those with another clear cause for their syncope. We seek to evaluate the pulmonary embolism prevalence among emergency department (ED) patients with syncope.

Methods: We combined data from 2 large prospective studies enrolling adults with syncope from 17 EDs in Canada and the United States. Each study collected the results of pulmonary embolism-related investigations (ie, D-dimer, ventilation-perfusion scan, or computed tomography [CT] pulmonary angiography) and 30-day adjudicated outcomes: pulmonary embolism or nonpulmonary embolism outcome (arrhythmia, myocardial infarction, serious hemorrhage, and death).

Results: Of the 9,374 patients enrolled, 9,091 (97.0%; median age 66 years, 51.9% women) with 30-day follow-up were analyzed: 547 (6.0%) were evaluated for pulmonary embolism (278 [3.1%] had D-dimer, 39 [0.4%] had ventilation-perfusion scan, and 347 [3.8%] had CT pulmonary angiography). Overall, 874 patients (9.6%) experienced 30-day serious outcomes: 818 patients (9.0%) with nonpulmonary embolism serious outcomes and 56 (prevalence 0.6%; 95% confidence interval 0.5% to 0.8%) with pulmonary embolism (including 8 [0.2%] out of 3521 patients diagnosed during the index hospitalization and 7 [0.1%] diagnosed after the index visit). Eighty-six patients (0.9%) died, and 4 deaths (0.04%) were related to pulmonary embolism. Only 11 patients (0.1%) with a nonpulmonary embolism serious condition had a concomitant pulmonary embolism.

Conclusion: The prevalence of pulmonary embolism is very low among ED patients with syncope, including those hospitalized after syncope. Although an underlying pulmonary embolism may cause syncope, clinicians should be cautious about indiscriminate investigations for pulmonary embolism.

Trial registration: NCT01802398.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Pulmonary Embolism / epidemiology*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / mortality
  • Syncope / epidemiology*
  • Syncope / mortality
  • United States / epidemiology

Associated data