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An unexpectedly high rate of pulmonary embolism in patients with superficial thrombophlebitis of the thigh.

PURPOSE: The rate of objectively proven pulmonary embolism in patients with thrombophlebitis of the greater saphenous vein was studied.

METHODS: Consecutive ambulant patients with thrombophlebitis of the greater saphenous vein, involving the above-knee segment, underwent a complete venous echo color Doppler examination of the lower limbs, perfusion lung scanning, and chest radiography. A high probability of pulmonary embolism was defined as the presence of two or more large segmental defects, one large and two or more moderate perfusion defects, or four or more moderate perfusion defects, with no corresponding abnormality found by means of chest radiography.

RESULTS: Of the 21 patients included in the study, findings compatible with a high probability of pulmonary embolism were detected in seven patients (33.3%; 95% CI, 14.6 to 57. 0), although clinical symptoms of pulmonary embolism were present only in one patient. No association was found between the presence of thrombosis at the saphenofemoral junction and the risk for pulmonary embolism.

CONCLUSION: The rate of pulmonary embolism in patients with thrombophlebitis of the greater saphenous vein is unexpectedly high. This risk is similarly high in patients with thrombosis at the saphenofemoral junction and in patients without thrombosis at the saphenofemoral junction. Our results are consistent with those of other recent investigations and suggest that superficial thrombophlebitis of the thigh is not as benign a disease entity as previously described.

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