History and physical examination in acute pulmonary embolism in patients without preexisting cardiac or pulmonary disease

Am J Cardiol. 1981 Feb;47(2):218-23. doi: 10.1016/0002-9149(81)90388-x.


The history and physical examination were assessed in 215 patients with acute pulmonary embolism uncomplicated by preexisting cardiac or pulmonary disease. The patients had been included in the Urokinase Pulmonary Embolism Trial or the Urokinase-Streptokinase Embolism Trial. Presenting syndromes were (1) circulatory collapse with shock (10 percent) or syncope (9 percent); (2) pulmonary infarction with hemoptysis (25 percent) or pleuritic pain and no hemoptysis (41 percent); (3) uncomplicated embolism characterized by dyspnea (12 percent) or nonpleuritic pain usually with tachypnea (3 percent) or deep venous thrombosis with tachypnea (0.5 percent). The most frequent symptoms were dyspnea (84 percent), pleuritic pain (74 percent), apprehension (63 percent) and cough (50 percent). Hemoptysis occurred in only 28 percent. Dyspnea, hemoptysis or pleuritic pain occurred separately or in combination in 94 percent. All three occurred in only 22 percent. The most frequent signs were tachypnea (respiration ate 20/min or more) (85 percent), tachycardia (heart rate 100 beats/min or more) (58 percent), accentuated pulmonary component of the second heart sound (57 percent) and rales (56 percent). Signs of deep venous thrombosis were present in only 41 percent and a pleural friction rub was present in only 18 percent. Either dyspnea or tachypnea occurred in 96 percent. Dyspnea, tachypnea or deep venous thrombosis occurred in 99 percent. As a group, the identified clinical manifestations, although nonspecific, are strongly suggestive of acute pulmonary embolism. Conversely, acute pulmonary embolism was rarely identified in the absence of dyspnea, tachypnea or deep venous thrombosis.

MeSH terms

  • Dyspnea / diagnosis
  • Female
  • Heart Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / diagnosis
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking*
  • Physical Examination*
  • Pleurisy / diagnosis
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnostic imaging
  • Radiography
  • Shock / diagnosis
  • Tachycardia / diagnosis
  • Thrombophlebitis / diagnosis