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Am J Med. 2000 Oct 1;109(5):357-61.

Effects of age on the performance of common diagnostic tests for pulmonary embolism.

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1
Department of Internal Medicine (MR, HB), Division of Angiology and Hemostasis, Geneva University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland.

Abstract

PURPOSE:

The diagnosis of pulmonary embolism in the elderly is often difficult because of comorbid medical conditions, and perhaps also because diagnostic tests have a lower yield. We analyzed the diagnostic performance of common diagnostic tests for pulmonary embolism in different age groups.

METHODS:

We analyzed data from two large studies that enrolled 1,029 consecutive patients presenting to the emergency department with clinically suspected pulmonary embolism. The clinical probability of pulmonary embolism (high [>/=80%], intermediate, or low [</=20%]) was estimated by the treating physician. All patients underwent a sequential diagnostic protocol, including ventilation-perfusion lung scan, measurement of plasma D-dimer level, lower limb venous compression ultrasonography, and pulmonary angiography if the noninvasive work-up was inconclusive.

RESULTS:

The prevalence of pulmonary embolism increased progressively, from 12% in patients <40 years of age to 44% in those >/=80 years of age. The positive predictive value of a high clinical probability of pulmonary embolism was greater in the elderly (71% to 78% in those >/=60 years old versus 40% to 64% in those </=59 years old). The sensitivity of D-dimer testing was 100% in all age groups, but its specificity decreased markedly with age, from 67% in those </=40 years old to 10% in those >/=80 years old. The diagnostic yield of lower limb compression ultrasonography was greater in the elderly. The proportion of lung scans that were diagnostic (normal, near-normal, or high probability) decreased from 68% to 42% with increasing age.

CONCLUSIONS:

Age affects the performance of common diagnostic tests for pulmonary embolism and should be kept in mind when evaluating patients suspected of having this condition.

PMID:
11020391
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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