Investigation and management of patients with pleuritic chest pain presenting to the accident and emergency department

K Jones, A Raghuram
Journal of Accident & Emergency Medicine 1999, 16 (1): 55-9
The assessment of a patient with pleuritic chest pain calls for a high degree of clinical acumen and a high degree of suspicion that the diagnosis might be pulmonary embolism. This area is one of the most difficult in A&E medicine (and indeed chest medicine). One error is to "think the best" when considering the diagnosis in such patients but experience soon teaches to "think PE" and diagnose less serious conditions only when pulmonary embolism has been excluded. A key consideration is the presence of risk factors. Because the diagnosis is difficult, there should be no hesitation in requesting a senior opinion or referring to the inpatient medical team. We have produced an algorithm (fig 1) for the investigation and management of pleuritic chest pain as discussed in this article. Three questions relating to this article are: (1) Can pulmonary embolism be the diagnosis in a patient with pleuritic chest pain but a normal chest radiograph, ECG, and arterial blood gases? (2) What is the chest radiograph abnormality which is most likely to alert you to the possibility of pulmonary embolism? (3) What percentage of patients with a low clinical suspicion of pulmonary embolism but a high probability V/Q scan will have pulmonary embolism demonstrated on pulmonary angiography? The three key references are The PIOPED Investigators, Dalen, and Fennerty.

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