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Postgrad Med. 1995 Jan;97(1):61-2, 65-8, 71-2.

Acute pulmonary embolism. Aggressive therapy with anticoagulants and thrombolytics.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, George Washington University Medical Center, Washington, DC.


Patients with acute pulmonary embolism are at risk for early death or chronic morbidity. Appropriate therapy can dramatically reduce the incidence of both. Oxygen and heparin therapy should be started as soon as the diagnosis is suspected. The condition of a hypotensive patient with right ventricular overload from acute pulmonary embolism usually is made worse by a fluid challenge; hypotension may be relieved by preload reduction or even by gentle diuresis. Norepinephrine (Levophed), isoproterenol hydrochloride (Isuprel), and epinephrine are the pressor agents of choice. Immediate thrombolysis is the standard of care for any patient with significant hypoxemia or hypotension due to proven pulmonary embolism. Beyond this, the potential benefit of using thrombolytic agents should be considered routinely for every patient with proven pulmonary embolism. Surgical embolectomy is useful for unstable pulmonary embolism when there are absolute contraindications to thrombolysis or when thrombolytic therapy fails. Empirical use of thrombolysis may be considered as a last-ditch effort for a critically ill patient when there is a high clinical suspicion of pulmonary embolism. Standard closed-chest cardiopulmonary resuscitation is ineffective when the pulmonary circulation is obstructed by thrombus. Emergency thoracotomy or femorofemoral cardiopulmonary bypass is appropriately used in patients with full cardiac arrest from pulmonary embolism.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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