Diagnosis of pulmonary embolism by a decision analysis-based strategy including clinical probability, D-dimer levels, and ultrasonography: a management study

Arch Intern Med. 1996 Mar 11;156(5):531-6.


Background: Assessment of the clinical probability of pulmonary emboli sm, plasma D-dimer measurement, and lower-limb venous compression ultrasonography have all been advocated in the workup of suspected pulmonary embolism, to minimize the requirement for pulmonary angiography in patients with nondiagnostic lung scans. However, their contribution has not been assessed prospectively.

Methods: Three hundred eight consecutive patients who came to the emergency department with suspected pulmonary embolism were managed according to a diagnostic protocol that included clinical probability assessment, lung scan, and sequential noninvasive tests: plasma D-dimer measurement by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (a concentration <500 microgram/L ruled out pulmonary embolism) and lower-limb B-mode venous compression ultrasonography (a positive finding was diagnostic of venous thromboembolism). Patients without pulmonary embolism according to the diagnostic workup did not receive anticoagulant treatment. The safety of this approach was assessed by a 6-month follow-up.

Results: of the 308 patients, 106 (34%) had a diagnostic lung scan (normal in 43 and high probability in 63). For the remaining 202 patients, noninvasive workup was diagnostic in 125 (62%). Pulmonary embolism was ruled out by a low clinical probability and a nondiagnostic scan in 48 patients and a D-dimer level less than 500 microgram/L in 53; pulmonary embolism was established by a high clinical probability and a nondiagnostic scan in seven patients and by a finding of a deep vein thrombosis on ultrasonography in 17. Therefore, only 77 of these 202 patients underwent pulmonary angiography (negative in 55; positive in 22). At 6-month follow-up (completed for 99.4% of the study population), only two of the 199 patients in whom the diagnostic protocol had ruled out pulmonary embolism (1.0% [95% confidence interval, 0.1 to 3.6]) had a thromboembolic event (pulmonary embolism, one; deep vein thrombosis, one).

Conclusions: This decision analysis strategy yielded a definitive noninvasive diagnosis in 62% of patients with a nondiagnostic scan and appears to be safe.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antifibrinolytic Agents / analysis*
  • Decision Support Techniques*
  • Female
  • Fibrin Fibrinogen Degradation Products / analysis*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Probability
  • Prospective Studies
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnostic imaging
  • Thrombophlebitis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Ultrasonography


  • Antifibrinolytic Agents
  • Fibrin Fibrinogen Degradation Products
  • fibrin fragment D