Impact of the incidental diagnosis of clinically unsuspected central pulmonary artery thromboembolism in treatment of critically ill patients

Chest. 1994 Apr;105(4):986-90. doi: 10.1378/chest.105.4.986.


Mortality is high in unrecognized pulmonary embolism (PE), but the diagnosis is difficult to establish, especially in patients with coexisting cardiopulmonary disorders. We describe a group of 14 patients with pulmonary thromboemboli in whom transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) performed for coexisting cardiopulmonary conditions established the clinical diagnosis of PE not suspected prior to TEE. The patients had initial clinical diagnoses of heart failure (eight patients), cardiogenic shock (two patients), atrial septal defect (two patients), aortic dissection (one patient), and pneumonia (one patient). Thirteen patients had risk factors for PE. Transthoracic echocardiography (TTE) demonstrated right heart strain in eight patients but did not visualize PE in any of the patients. The TEE diagnosis of occult central pulmonary artery thromboembolism changed treatment in all 14 patients. Ten of the 14 patients were successfully discharged from the hospital. We conclude that occult central pulmonary artery thromboemboli are not uncommon in patients presenting with acute cardiopulmonary disorders and the presence of risk factors for PE and right heart strain on TTE should alert the physician to suspect PE. If and when TEE is performed in patients with acute cardiopulmonary disorders with risk factors for PE and right heart strain, the physician should evaluate the main pulmonary artery and its branches for central pulmonary artery thromboemboli.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Critical Illness
  • Echocardiography, Transesophageal
  • Female
  • Heart Diseases / complications
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumonia / complications
  • Pulmonary Embolism / complications
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / therapy*
  • Risk Factors