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Historical Evolution of Imaging Techniques for the Evaluation of Pulmonary Embolism.

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), it seems fitting to look back at the major accomplishments of the radiology community in the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism. Few diseases have so consistently captured the attention of the medical community. Since the first description of pulmonary embolism by Virchow in the 1850s, clinicians have struggled to reach a timely diagnosis of this common condition because of its nonspecific and often confusing clinical picture. As imaging tests started to gain importance in the 1900s, the approach to diagnosing pulmonary embolism also began to change. Rapid improvements in angiography, ventilation-perfusion imaging, and cross-sectional imaging modalities such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging have constantly forced health care professionals to rethink how they diagnose pulmonary embolism. Needless to say, the way pulmonary embolism is diagnosed today is distinctly different from how it was diagnosed in Virchow's era; and imaging, particularly CT, now forms the cornerstone of diagnostic evaluation. Currently, radiology offers a variety of tests that are fast and accurate and can provide anatomic and functional information, thus allowing early diagnosis and triage of cases. This review provides a historical journey into the evolution of these imaging tests and highlights some of the major breakthroughs achieved by the radiology community and RSNA in this process. Also highlighted are areas of ongoing research and development in this field of imaging as radiologists seek to combat some of the newer challenges faced by modern medicine, such as rising health care costs and radiation dose hazards.

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