Radiologic mimics of pulmonary embolism

Postgrad Med. 2021 Aug;133(sup1):64-70. doi: 10.1080/00325481.2021.1931370. Epub 2021 Jun 14.


The diagnosis of pulmonary embolism (PE) is often made more challenging by the presence of diseases that can mimic thromboembolic disease. There is no specific or sensitive constellation of clinical signs or symptoms that can be used to diagnose PE. Ventilation/perfusion scans can have false-positive findings related to mediastinal conditions that can compress the pulmonary arteries, and pulmonary hemorrhage can resemble PE on V/Q scanning with potentially devastating consequences if anticoagulation is started. CT-scan related issues l eading to potential false-positive diagnoses range from inadequate imaging technique, to systemic-pulmonary shunting, to non-thrombotic occlusion of pulmonary arteries by tumor, septic emboli, and emboli of fat, air, and foreign material, as well as vasculitic processes. Careful assessment of the patient and consideration of these potential mimickers is imperative to correct diagnosis of this potentially life-threatening condition.

Keywords: Clinical mimics; cardiovascular health; computed tomography; pulmonary embolism.

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Pulmonary Artery / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnosis*
  • Radiography* / methods
  • Radiography* / trends