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Eur Respir J Suppl. 2002 Feb;35:22s-27s.

Modern treatment of pulmonary embolism.

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Cardiovascular Division, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Modern treatment of acute pulmonary embolism requires rapid and accurate diagnosis followed by risk stratification to devise an optimal management strategy. Patients at low risk have good outcomes simply with intensive anticoagulation treatment. Higher-risk patients may require more aggressive intervention with thrombolysis or embolectomy. Clinical risk factors for an adverse outcome include increasing age, cancer, congestive heart failure, systemic arterial hypotension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and right ventricular dysfunction. A promising approach is the Geneva Prognostic Score, which is based upon a rapid clinical assessment. On physical examination, signs of right ventricular failure, including distended jugular veins and a right-sided S3 gallop, should be looked for. The electrocardiogram may show evidence of right ventricular strain with a new right bundle branch block or T wave inversion in leads V1-V4. The troponin level may be elevated as a marker of cardiac injury and right ventricular microinfarction, even in the absence of coronary artery disease. The most useful imaging marker of high risk is the presence of moderate or severe right ventricular dilatation and hypokinesis on the echocardiogram, especially with progressively worsening right ventricular function despite intensive anticoagulation treatment. Patients at high risk should be considered for thrombolytic therapy or embolectomy rather than management with anticoagulation therapy alone. Special care must be taken to avoid thrombolytic therapy among patients who might be susceptible to intracranial haemorrhage. Intracranial haemorrhage reached a surprisingly high rate of 3.0% in the International Cooperative Pulmonary Embolism Registry of 2,454 prospectively evaluated acute pulmonary embolism patients at 52 hospitals in seven countries. An alternative approach to patients at high risk is a catheter-based or open surgical embolectomy. It is crucial to refer these patients as quickly as possible, rather than delaying intervention until cardiogenic shock has ensued. Fortunately the current tools for risk stratification provide an "early window" for prognostication and can help the coordination of a definitive treatment plan with optimal results.

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