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Ann Intern Med. 2001 Jul 17;135(2):88-97.

Performance of helical computed tomography in unselected outpatients with suspected pulmonary embolism.

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Medical Clinic 1, Department of Internal Medicine, Geneva University Hospital, Rue Micheli-du-Crest 24, CH-1211 Geneva 14, Switzerland.



Helical computed tomography (CT) is commonly used to diagnose pulmonary embolism, although its operating characteristics have been insufficiently evaluated.


To assess the sensitivity and specificity of helical CT in suspected pulmonary embolism.


Observational study.


Emergency department of a teaching and community hospital.


299 patients with clinically suspected pulmonary embolism and a plasma D -dimer level greater than 500 microgram/L.


Pulmonary embolism was established by using a validated algorithm that included clinical assessment, lower-limb compression ultrasonography, lung scanning, and pulmonary angiography.


Sensitivity, specificity, and likelihood ratios of helical CT and interobserver agreement. Helical CT scans were withheld from clinicians and were read 3 months after acquisition by radiologists blinded to all clinical data.


118 patients (39%) had pulmonary embolism. In 12 patients (4%), 2 of whom had pulmonary embolism, results of helical CT were inconclusive. For patients with conclusive results, sensitivity of helical CT was 70% (95% CI, 62% to 78%) and specificity was 91% (CI, 86% to 95%). Interobserver agreement was high (kappa = 0.823 to 0.902). The false-negative rate was lower for helical CT used after initial negative results on ultrasonography than for helical CT alone (21% vs. 30%). Use of helical CT after normal results on initial ultrasonography and nondiagnostic results on lung scanning had a false-negative rate of only 5% and a false-positive rate of only 7%.


Helical CT should not be used alone for suspected pulmonary embolism but could replace angiography in combined strategies that include ultrasonography and lung scanning.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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