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Chest. 1990 Mar;97(3):554-61.

Natural course of treated pulmonary embolism. Evaluation by perfusion lung scintigraphy, gas exchange, and chest roentgenogram.

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CNR Institute of Clinical Physiology, Pisa, Italy.


Perfusion lung scintigrams, pulmonary gas exchange data, and chest roentgenograms were obtained in 33 patients during acute embolism and over the following six months in order to assess their clinical usefulness in monitoring the effect of therapy. To this purpose, the measurement of pulmonary gas exchange and the presence of chest x-ray findings were compared with perfusion lung scintigraphic abnormalities both at diagnosis and after 7, 30, and 180 days during treatment. More than 50 percent of the pulmonary arterial tree was obstructed at diagnosis, and a large part of perfusion recovery was complete within the first month. All of the gas exchange parameters were abnormal at diagnosis, and the rate of their improvement was related to that of perfusion recovery. Interestingly, PaO2st (ie, PaO2 corrected for hyperventilation) and VE tended to return to normal during the first month as a consequence of the progressive recovery of perfusion, whereas oxygen and carbon dioxide gradients and physiologic dead space showed the persistence of some abnormalities six months after diagnosis. Significant correlations were observed between the number of ULSs evaluated on the perfusion lung scintigram (and considered an index of the severity of pulmonary embolization) and all of the gas exchange parameters at diagnosis (correlation coefficients averaged from 0.41 to 0.73) and after 7 and 30 days. The enlargement of the right descending pulmonary artery and particularly the "sausage" sign and the Westermark sign were significantly associated with a higher degree of gas exchange impairment and with a more severe embolization. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that perfusion lung scintigraphy has a primary role in monitoring the recovery of patients with pulmonary embolism under treatment. Moreover, the chest roentgenogram may help in this purpose. A second major result is that the simple measurement of some gas exchange parameters may allow the assessment of functional recovery of these patients, thus giving additional information about the effect of therapy.

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