Clinical features from the history and physical examination that predict the presence or absence of pulmonary embolism in symptomatic emergency department patients: results of a prospective, multicenter study

D Mark Courtney, Jeffrey A Kline, Christopher Kabrhel, Christopher L Moore, Howard A Smithline, Kristen E Nordenholz, Peter B Richman, Michael C Plewa
Annals of Emergency Medicine 2010, 55 (4): 307-315.e1

STUDY OBJECTIVE: Prediction rules for pulmonary embolism use variables explicitly shown to estimate the probability of pulmonary embolism. However, clinicians often use variables that have not been similarly validated, yet are implicitly believed to modify probability of pulmonary embolism. The objective of this study is to measure the predictive value of 13 implicit variables.

METHODS: Patients were enrolled in a prospective cohort study from 12 centers in the United States; all had an objective test for pulmonary embolism (D-dimer, computed tomographic angiography, or ventilation-perfusion scan). Clinical features including 12 predefined previously validated (explicit) variables and 13 variables not part of existing prediction rules (implicit) were prospectively recorded at presentation. The primary outcome was venous thromboembolism (pulmonary embolism or deep venous thrombosis), diagnosed by imaging up to 45 days after enrollment. Variables with adjusted odds ratios from logistic regression with 95% confidence intervals not crossing unity were considered significant.

RESULTS: Seven thousand nine hundred forty patients (7.2% venous thromboembolism positive) were enrolled. Mean age was 49 years (standard deviation 17 years) and 67% were female patients. Eight of 13 implicit variables were significantly associated with venous thromboembolism; those with an adjusted odds ratio (OR) greater than 1.5 included non-cancer-related thrombophilia (OR 1.99), pleuritic chest pain (OR 1.53), and family history of venous thromboembolism (OR 1.51). Implicit variables that predicted no venous thromboembolism outcome included substernal chest pain, female sex, and smoking. Nine of 12 explicit variables predicted a positive outcome of venous thromboembolism, including patient history of pulmonary embolism or deep venous thrombosis in the past, unilateral leg swelling, recent surgery, estrogen, hypoxemia, and active malignancy.

CONCLUSION: In symptomatic outpatients being considered for possible pulmonary embolism, non-cancer-related thrombophilia, pleuritic chest pain, and family history of venous thromboembolism increase probability of pulmonary embolism or deep venous thrombosis. Other variables that are part of existing pretest probability systems were validated as important predictors in this diverse sample of US emergency department patients.

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