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JAMA. 2006 Jan 11;295(2):199-207.

Does this patient have deep vein thrombosis?

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Department of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ontario.



Outpatients with suspected deep vein thrombosis (DVT) have nonspecific signs and symptoms. Missed DVT diagnosis may result in fatal pulmonary embolism. Since many patients may have DVT, a selective and efficient diagnostic process is needed.


To systematically review trials that determined the prevalence of DVT using clinical prediction rules either with or without D-dimer, for the diagnosis of DVT.


English- and French-language studies were identified from MEDLINE from 1990 to July 2004 and supplemented by a review of all relevant bibliographies.


We included studies that prospectively enrolled consecutive, unselected outpatients with suspected DVT and applied clinical prediction rules before D-dimer testing or diagnostic imaging. All studies included sufficient information to allow the calculation of the prevalence of DVT for at least 1 of the 3 clinical probability estimates (low, moderate, or high). We required that patients be followed up for a minimum 3-month period. Unless the clinical model incorporated prior DVT, studies were excluded if patients with a history of prior DVT were enrolled.


Two reviewers independently reviewed and abstracted data for estimating the prevalence of DVT, sensitivity, specificity, and likelihood ratios (LRs) of D-dimer in each of the 3 clinical probability estimates. Data for the D-dimer in all studies were pooled and analyzed as high-sensitivity/low-specificity test or a moderate-sensitivity/moderate-specificity test.


Fourteen studies involving more than 8000 patients used 1 clinical prediction rule for diagnosing DVT, of which 11 incorporated D-dimer testing in the diagnostic algorithm. The prevalence of DVT in the low, moderate, and high clinical probability groups was 5.0% (95% CI, 4.0%-8.0%), 17% (95% CI, 13%-23%), and 53% (95% CI, 44%-61%), respectively. The overall prevalence of DVT was 19% (95% CI, 16%-23%). Pooling all studies, the sensitivity, specificity, and negative LRs of D-dimer testing in the low probability group were 88% (95% CI, 81%-92%), 72% (95% CI, 65%-78%), and 0.18% (95% CI, 0.12-0.18); in the moderate probability group: 90% (95% CI, 80%-95%), 58% (95% CI, 49%-67%), and 0.19% (95% CI, 0.11-0.32); and in the high probability group: 92% (95% CI, 85%-96%), 45% (95% CI, 37%-52%), and 0.16% (95% CI, 0.09-0.30). The LRs for a normal result on a high or moderately sensitive D-dimer assay among patients with: (1) low clinical suspicion were 0.10 (95% CI, 0.03-0.37) and 0.20 (95% CI, 0.12-0.31); (2) moderate clinical suspicion were 0.05 (95% CI, 0.01-0.21) and 0.23 (95% CI, 0.13-0.39); and (3) high clinical suspicion were 0.07 (95% CI, 0.03-0.18) and 0.15 (95% CI, 0.10-0.38).


Diagnostic accuracy for DVT improves when clinical probability is estimated before diagnostic tests. Patients with low clinical probability on the predictive rule have prevalence of DVT of less than 5%. In low-probability patients with negative D-dimer results, diagnosis of DVT can be excluded without ultrasound; in patients with high clinical suspicion for DVT, results should not affect clinical decisions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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