Nineteen-Year Trends in Mortality of Patients Hospitalized in the United States with High-Risk Pulmonary Embolism

Am J Med. 2021 Oct;134(10):1260-1264. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2021.01.026. Epub 2021 Feb 22.


Background: Several advanced treatments of high-risk patients with pulmonary embolism have been used in recent decades. We assessed the 19-year national trend in mortality of high-risk patients with pulmonary embolism to determine what impact, if any, advanced therapy might have had on mortality.

Methods: Mortality (case fatality rate) was assessed in patients with a primary (first-listed) diagnosis of high-risk pulmonary embolism who were hospitalized during the period from 1999 to 2014 and in 2016 and 2017. High-risk was defined as patients with pulmonary embolism who were in shock or suffered cardiac arrest. International Classification of Diseases, 9th revision, Clinical Modification codes were used for data on the period from 1999 to 2014, and version 10 codes were used for data on the years 2016 and 2017. Trends in mortality were assessed according to treatment.

Results: From 1999 to 2017 (excluding 2015), 58,784 patients were hospitalized in United States with a primary diagnosis of pulmonary embolism that was high risk. Mortality in all high-risk patients decreased from 72.7% in 1999 to 49.8% in 2017 (P < .0001). Most high-risk patients (60.3%) were treated with anticoagulants alone and did not receive an inferior vena cava filter. Mortality in these patients decreased from 79.0% in 1999 to 55.7% in 2017 (P < .0001). Thrombolytic therapy was administered to 16.1% of high-risk patients, open pulmonary embolectomy alone was used in 4.3%, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation was used in 0.4%.

Conclusions: Mortality of high-risk patients with pulmonary embolism has decreased. This decrease can be attributed to improved treatment of patients with shock and with cardiac arrest, and does not reflect advances in therapy for pulmonary embolism.

Keywords: Cardiac arrest; Critical care; High-risk pulmonary embolism; Massive pulmonary embolism; Pulmonary embolism; Shock; Venous thromboembolism.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Female
  • Hospital Mortality / trends*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulmonary Embolism / mortality*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / therapy*
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology