Diagnostic role of ED ultrasound in deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism

B W Frazee, E R Snoey
American Journal of Emergency Medicine 1999, 17 (3): 271-8
Proximal deep venous thrombosis (DVT), which may lead to pulmonary embolism (PE), is one of the serious and underrecognized causes of lower extremity pain and swelling. The diagnosis of DVT requires a confirmatory objective test because clinical signs and symptoms are unreliable. Assessment of thigh vein compressibility with real-time ultrasound is an accurate test for DVT that may be performed rapidly at the bedside. Although unproven, we propose that wider use of this test in the emergency department by emergency physicians might increase the diagnosis of DVT, prevent PE, and reduce utilization of other more costly and invasive diagnostic tests. Evaluation of DVT by compression ultrasound may also be incorporated in the diagnostic workup of suspected PE. In the case of a nondiagnostic ventilation/perfusion scan, demonstration of proximal DVT by ultrasound represents a likely source of PE and an indication for anticoagulation, eliminating the need for pulmonary angiography. In the critically ill patient whose presentation is consistent with massive PE, one rapid approach to the diagnosis may be to combine transthoracic echocardiography with lower extremity ultrasound.

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