Use of spiral computed tomography contrast angiography and ultrasonography to exclude the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism in the emergency department

David R Anderson, Michael J Kovacs, Carol Dennie, George Kovacs, Ian Stiell, Jon Dreyer, Bonnie McCarron, Susan Pleasance, Erica Burton, Yannick Cartier, Philip S Wells
Journal of Emergency Medicine 2005, 29 (4): 399-404
Spiral computed tomography (CT) contrast angiography is a promising imaging modality for the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism but the negative predictive value of this test remains controversial. We performed a multi-center prospective cohort study to determine the safety of relying on a negative spiral CT contrast angiography scan to exclude pulmonary embolism. Patients presenting to the Emergency Departments of three tertiary care institutions with clinically suspected pulmonary embolism were potentially eligible for the study. Patients underwent a clinical evaluation to categorize pretest probability into low, moderate, and high categories, and had D-dimer testing performed. Patients at low pretest probability with normal D-dimer were considered to have pulmonary embolism excluded. The remaining patients underwent spiral CT contrast angiography scan of the pulmonary arterial circulation and bilateral venous ultrasound of the proximal leg veins. Patients who were confirmed to have pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis were treated with anticoagulant therapy. Patients in whom the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism was excluded did not receive anticoagulant therapy and were followed for a 3-month period for the development of venous thromboembolic complications. Eight hundred fifty-eight (858) patients were enrolled in this study. Three-hundred sixty-nine (369) patients had low pretest probability and negative D-dimer results and no further diagnostic tests were performed. None of these patients subsequently developed venous thromboembolic complications (0%, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0% to 1.0%). The remaining 489 were referred for spiral CT contrast angiography scan and ultrasound. Sixty-seven patients were confirmed to have pulmonary embolism and an additional 15 patients with negative CT scans had proximal deep vein thrombosis (DVT) on ultrasound for a total prevalence of venous thromboembolism of 82/489 (16.8%). Two of 409 patients who had pulmonary embolism excluded in the initial evaluation phase developed proximal venous thromboembolism (0.5%; 95% CI 0% to 1.8%) in the 3-month follow-up period. These findings suggest that the combination of a negative spiral CT contrast angiography scan and normal venous ultrasound imaging safely excludes the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism in the Emergency Department setting.

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