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Pulmonary Embolism

Pulmonary Embolism is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Clinical Consult.

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  • Pulmonary embolism (PE) is the most serious presentation of venous thromboembolism (VTE).
  • Mortality exceeds 15% during the first 3 months. In 25% of patients, first manifestation is sudden death.


Case fatality rate 1–60%. For patients with intermediate risk, mortality rate is 3–15% if right ventricular (RV) dilation or dysfunction. If hemodynamically unstable, mortality is >15% due to worsening RV failure and cardiogenic shock.

  • Approximately 60 to 70 per 100,000, with >100,000 cases annually in the United States
  • Incidence increases with age, most occurring at 60 to 70 years of age.
  • 250,000 hospitalizations per year in the United States, 10–60% in hospitalized patients
    • Highest risk for orthopedic patients
    • 1:1,000 pregnancies (including postpartum)

Etiology and Pathophysiology

  • Venous stasis, endothelial damage, and changes in coagulation properties trigger formation of thrombus (1).
  • Causes increased pulmonary vascular resistance, impaired gas exchange, and decreased pulmonary compliance. RV failure due to pressure overload is usually the primary cause of death (1).
  • DVT in the proximal veins is the most common source of PE, up to 85% of the cases.

  • Factor V Leiden: Most common thrombophilia. +5.5% in Caucasian, 2.2% in Hispanics, 1.2% in African American, 0.5% in Asian; associated with 20% of all VTE
  • Prothrombin G20210A: 3% of Caucasians, rare in African American, Asian, and Native American; 6% in patients with VTE
  • Deficiencies in protein C, S, and antithrombin

Risk Factors

  • Acquired: age, immobilization, surgery, major trauma, lower limb fractures, joint replacement, spinal cord injury, cancer, hormonal replacement therapy, pregnancy/puerperium, previous thrombosis, paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, antiphospholipid syndrome, prolonged travel
  • Oral contraceptive is the most frequent medication (1).
  • Inherited: antithrombin deficiency, protein C or S deficiency, factor V Leiden, prothrombin gene mutation G20210A (1)

General Prevention

  • Mechanical thromboprophylaxis: early ambulation after surgery, compression stockings, and intermittent pneumatic compression
  • Intermediate risk: general, gynecologic, or urologic surgery; prophylaxis is recommended with low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH), unfractionated heparin (UFH), or fondaparinux.
  • High risk: 10 or more days prophylaxis in hip or knee arthroplasty, with LMWH, fondaparinux, apixaban, dabigatran, rivaroxaban, or low-dose UFH. 28 to 35 days with LMWH, fondaparinux, UFH, or vitamin K antagonists (VKA) in hip fracture surgery; LMWH or UFH in major trauma, spinal cord injury
  • Long-distance travel (>8 hours): hydration, walking, avoidance of constrictive clothing and frequent calf exercises; if additional risk factors, then compression stockings below knee
  • Patients with factor V Leiden, prothrombin G20210A with no previous thrombosis do not need long-term daily prophylaxis.

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Stephens, Mark B., et al., editors. "Pulmonary Embolism." 5-Minute Clinical Consult, 27th ed., Wolters Kluwer, 2019. Medicine Central, im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116505/all/Pulmonary_Embolism.
Pulmonary Embolism. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, et al, eds. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. 27th ed. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116505/all/Pulmonary_Embolism. Accessed April 19, 2019.
Pulmonary Embolism. (2019). In Stephens, M. B., Golding, J., Baldor, R. A., & Domino, F. J. (Eds.), 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Available from https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116505/all/Pulmonary_Embolism
Pulmonary Embolism [Internet]. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, Domino FJ, editors. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. [cited 2019 April 19]. Available from: https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116505/all/Pulmonary_Embolism.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - Pulmonary Embolism ID - 116505 ED - Stephens,Mark B, ED - Golding,Jeremy, ED - Baldor,Robert A, ED - Domino,Frank J, BT - 5-Minute Clinical Consult, Updating UR - https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116505/all/Pulmonary_Embolism PB - Wolters Kluwer ET - 27 DB - Medicine Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -