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Respiration. 2003 Mar-Apr;70(2):125-32.

Laboratory tests in the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism.

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Service de Pneumologie, Hôpital Européen Georges-Pompidou, Assistance Publique, Hôpitaux de Paris, Université Paris V, Paris, France.


The diagnosis of pulmonary embolism (PE) requires objective testing. However, all imaging techniques have their own limitations and costs and cannot be performed in every patient with suspected PE. After decades of unfruitful research, several laboratory tests have been evaluated for suspected PE, the most promising being the D-dimer test. As a general rule, the specificity of D-dimers is too low to confirm PE. Conversely, several (but not all) D-dimer assays have a high sensitivity for diagnosing PE. Outcome studies indicate that the Vidas D-dimer and SimpliRED D-dimer can be used safely to withdraw anticoagulation when the pretest probability of PE is low (SimpliRED) or when it is low or moderate (Vidas). These results may however not apply to other D-dimer assays and clinicians should know the characteristics of the test used in their hospital. Blood gas analysis does not have sufficient sensitivity and specificity to confirm or exclude PE, but it may be used to evaluate the clinical probability of PE before other testing is done. The diagnostic value of the alveolar dead space fraction in patients with suspected PE is currently investigated. Initial data suggest that it needs to be combined with a D-dimer test to safely exclude PE. Brain natriuretic peptide and cardiac troponin have limited usefulness for diagnosing PE, but both tests may identify patients with a poor prognosis, in whom more aggressive treatment may be warranted.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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