Purpose: The purpose of this investigation is to determine the prevalence of acute pulmonary embolism (PE) limited to subsegmental pulmonary arteries.
Background: Contrast-enhanced helical (spiral) and electron-beam CT, in the hands of experienced radiologists who are skillful with this modality, are sensitive for the detection of acute PE in central pulmonary arteries, but have a low sensitivity for the detection of PE limited to subsegmental pulmonary arteries. The potential for CT to diagnose PE, therefore, is partially dependent on the prevalence of PE limited to subsegmental pulmonary arteries.
Methods: Data are from the Prospective Investigation of Pulmonary Embolism Diagnosis (PIOPED). The largest pulmonary arteries that showed PE, as interpreted by the PIOPED angiographic readers, were identified in 375 patients in PIOPED with angiographically diagnosed PE.
Results: Among all patients with PE, 6% (95% confidence interval [CI], 4 to 9%) had PE limited to subsegmental branches of the pulmonary artery. Patients with high-probability ventilation/ perfusion (V/Q) scans had PE limited to subsegmental branches in only 1% (95% CI, 0 to 4%). Among patients with low-probability V/Q lung scans, 17% (95% CI, 8 to 29%) had PE limited to the subsegmental branches. Patients with low-probability V/Q scans and no prior cardiopulmonary disease had PE limited to the subsegmental pulmonary arteries in 30% (95% CI, 13 to 53%), whereas patients with low-probability V/Q scans who had prior cardiopulmonary disease had PE limited to subsegmental pulmonary arteries in 8% (95% CI, 2 to 22%) (p < 0.05).
Conclusion: Based on data from all patients with PE in PIOPED, the prevalence of PE limited to subsegmental pulmonary arteries is low, 6%. PE limited to subsegmental pulmonary arteries was most prevalent among patients with low-probability V/Q scans, particularly if they had no prior cardiopulmonary disease.