Management Strategies for Acute Pulmonary Embolism in the ICU

Chest. 2024 Jun 1:S0012-3692(24)00675-5. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2024.04.032. Online ahead of print.


Topic importance: Acute pulmonary embolism (PE) is a common disease encountered by pulmonologists, cardiologists, and critical care physicians throughout the world. For patients with high-risk acute PE (defined by systemic hypotension) and intermediate high-risk acute PE (defined by the absence of systemic hypotension, but the presence of numerous other concerning clinical and imaging features), intensive care often is necessary. Initial management strategies should focus on optimization of right ventricle (RV) function while decisions about advanced interventions are being considered.

Review findings: We reviewed the existing literature of various vasoactive agents, IV fluids and diuretics, and pulmonary vasodilators in both animal models and human trials of acute PE. We also reviewed the potential complications of endotracheal intubation and positive pressure ventilation in acute PE. Finally, we reviewed the data of venoarterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) use in acute PE. The above interventions are discussed in the context of the underlying pathophysiologic features of acute RV failure in acute PE with corresponding illustrations.

Summary: Norepinephrine is a reasonable first choice for hemodynamic support with vasopressin as an adjunct. IV loop diuretics may be useful if evidence of RV dysfunction or volume overload is present. Fluids should be given only if concern exists for hypovolemia and absence of RV dilatation. Supplemental oxygen administration should be considered even without hypoxemia. Positive pressure ventilation should be avoided if possible. venoarterial ECMO cannulation should be implemented early if ongoing deterioration occurs despite these interventions.

Keywords: acute pulmonary embolism; obstructive shock; pulmonary embolism; pulmonary vascular disease; right ventricular failure; thromboembolic disease.

Publication types

  • Review