Risk for Recurrent Venous Thromboembolism in Patients With Subsegmental Pulmonary Embolism Managed Without Anticoagulation : A Multicenter Prospective Cohort Study

Ann Intern Med. 2022 Jan;175(1):29-35. doi: 10.7326/M21-2981. Epub 2021 Nov 23.


Background: The incidence of pulmonary embolism has been increasing, but its case-fatality rate is decreasing, suggesting a lesser severity of illness. The clinical importance of patients with pulmonary embolism isolated to the subsegmental vessels is unknown.

Objective: To determine the rate of recurrent venous thromboembolism in patients with subsegmental pulmonary embolism managed without anticoagulation.

Design: Multicenter prospective cohort study. (ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT01455818).

Setting: Eighteen sites between February 2011 and February 2021.

Patients: Patients with isolated subsegmental pulmonary embolism.

Intervention: At diagnosis, patients underwent bilateral lower-extremity venous ultrasonography, which was repeated 1 week later if results were negative. Patients without deep venous thrombosis did not receive anticoagulant therapy.

Measurements: The primary outcome was recurrent venous thromboembolism during the 90-day follow-up period.

Results: Recruitment was stopped prematurely because the predefined stopping rule was met after 292 of a projected 300 patients were enrolled. Of the 266 patients included in the primary analysis, the primary outcome occurred in 8 patients, for a cumulative incidence of 3.1% (95% CI, 1.6% to 6.1%) over the 90-day follow-up. The incidence of recurrent venous thromboembolism was 2.1% (CI, 0.8% to 5.5%) and 5.7% (CI, 2.2% to 14.4%) over the 90-day follow-up in patients with single and multiple isolated subsegmental pulmonary embolism, respectively. No patients had a fatal recurrent pulmonary embolism.

Limitation: The study was restricted to patients with low-risk subsegmental pulmonary embolism.

Conclusion: Overall, patients with subsegmental pulmonary embolism who did not have proximal deep venous thrombosis had a higher-than-expected rate of recurrent venous thromboembolism.

Primary funding source: Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and French Ministry of Health Programme Hospitalier de Recherche Clinique.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Pulmonary Embolism / therapy*
  • Recurrence
  • Risk Factors
  • Ultrasonography
  • Venous Thrombosis / diagnostic imaging*

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01455818

Grants and funding