Distribution of thrombosis in patients with symptomatic deep vein thrombosis. Implications for simplifying the diagnostic process with compression ultrasound

Arch Intern Med. 1993 Dec 27;153(24):2777-80.


Background: Two different diagnostic strategies are used to perform compression (real-time) ultrasound for the diagnosis of clinically suspected deep-vein thrombosis. One is to examine the entire proximal venous system from common femoral to distal popliteal vein; the other is a limited examination of only the common femoral and the entire popliteal vein. The latter strategy, which is less time-consuming and requires less expensive equipment, is based on a strong impression from prospective studies using limited compression ultrasound that proximal vein thrombi always involve the common femoral or popliteal vein. This impression, which is supported by the demonstrated safety at long-term follow-up of not treating patients whose limited compression ultrasound is normal at presentation and then repeated within the next week, has not been tested in a formal study. Therefore, we reviewed a large series of venograms performed in consecutive patients with clinically suspected venous thrombosis to determine the distribution of venous thrombosis in symptomatic patients.

Methods: Venograms were performed using 150 mL of radiographic contrast material. Before the study, a panel of experts agreed on the standardized criteria for the assessment of venograms. Venograms were adjudicated blindly for the presence of deep vein thrombosis and to determine the distribution of proximal vein thrombosis and isolated calf-vein thrombosis, the size of proximal thrombi, and whether they were occlusive or nonocclusive. Subsequently, the duration of symptoms was related to the venographic findings.

Results: Five hundred sixty-two venograms from consecutive patients with a first episode of clinically suspected deep vein thrombosis were adjudicated. Of these, 20 (3.6%) were inadequate for interpretation. In the remaining 542, venous thrombosis was demonstrated in 189 instances (prevalence, 35%; 95% confidence interval, 31% to 39%) and were located in the proximal veins in 166 (88%; 95% confidence interval, 82% to 92%) venograms. Isolated calf-vein thrombosis was present in the remaining 23 (12%; 95% confidence interval, 8% to 18%) venograms. Proximal with concurrent calf thrombosis was detected in 164 (99%) of the 166 patients. Proximal thrombi involved only the popliteal vein in 16 (10%); the popliteal and superficial femoral veins in 70 (42%); and the popliteal, superficial, and common femoral vein in eight (5%); whereas thrombi involving the entire proximal deep venous system were detected in 58 (35%) venograms. Isolated thrombosis of the superficial femoral, common femoral, and iliac vein was not observed. Proximal venous thrombi were occlusive in 146 (88%) patients. No relation between the duration of symptoms and the extent or the occlusiveness of venous thrombi could be demonstrated.

Conclusions: Most symptomatic patients have extensive occlusive proximal vein thrombosis at the time of presentation. Thrombi isolated to the superficial femoral or iliac vein were not observed in this large sample of consecutive patients. Our data support the use of the relatively simple, inexpensive, and rapid compression ultrasound method that limits the examination of the proximal veins to the common femoral and popliteal veins.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Humans
  • Phlebography
  • Pressure
  • Thrombophlebitis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Ultrasonography / methods