Value of assessment of pretest probability of deep-vein thrombosis in clinical management

Lancet. 1997 Dec;350(9094):1795-8. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(97)08140-3.


Background: When ultrasonography is used to investigate deep-vein thrombosis, serial testing is recommended for those who test negative initially. Serial testing is inconvenient for patients and costly. We aimed to assess whether the calculation of pretest probability of deep-vein thrombosis, with a simple clinical model, could be used to improve the management of patients who present with suspected deep-vein thrombosis.

Methods: Consecutive outpatients with suspected deep-vein thrombosis had their pretest probability calculated with a clinical model. They then underwent compression ultrasound imaging of proximal veins of the legs. Patients at low pretest probability underwent a single ultrasound test. A negative ultrasound excluded the diagnosis of deep-vein thrombosis whereas a positive ultrasound was confirmed by venography. Patients at moderate pretest probability with a positive ultrasound were treated for deep-vein thrombosis whereas patients with an initial negative ultrasound underwent a single follow-up ultrasound 1 week later. Patients at high pretest probability with a positive ultrasound were treated whereas those with negative ultrasound underwent venography. All patients were followed up for 3 months for thromboembolic complications.

Findings: 95 (16.0%) of all 593 patients had deep-vein thrombosis; 3%, 17%, and 75% of the patients with low, moderate, and high pretest probability, respectively, had deep-vein thrombosis. Ten of 329 patients with low pretest probability had the diagnosis confirmed, nine at initial testing and one at follow-up. 32 of 193 patients with moderate pretest probability had deep-vein thrombosis, three diagnosed by the serial (1 week) test, and two during follow-up. 53 of 71 patients with high pretest probability had deep-vein thrombosis (49 by the initial ultrasound and four by venography). Only three (0.6%) of all 501 (95% CI 0.1-1.8) patients diagnosed as not having deep-vein thrombosis had events during the 3-month follow-up. Overall only 33 (5.6%) of 593 patients required venography and serial testing was limited to 166 (28%) of 593 patients.

Interpretation: Management of patients with suspected deep-vein thrombosis based on clinical probability and ultrasound of the proximal deep veins is safe and feasible. Our strategy reduced the need for serial ultrasound testing and reduced the rate of false-negative or false-positive ultrasound studies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological
  • Probability
  • Prospective Studies
  • Thrombophlebitis / diagnosis
  • Thrombophlebitis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Thrombophlebitis / therapy
  • Ultrasonography