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Arch Intern Med. 1994 Apr 25;154(8):861-6.

The epidemiology of diagnosed pulmonary embolism and deep venous thrombosis in the elderly.

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Department of Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, NH.



There are no studies that define the basic epidemiology of pulmonary embolism (PE) and deep venous thrombosis (DVT) in the elderly. This project was undertaken to provide that information.


We obtained all Medicare claims during the period 1986 through 1989 from a random 5% sample of US Medicare enrollees. By selecting codes used for diagnoses and treatment, we identified 7174 cases of PE and 8923 cases of DVT. These cohorts were analyzed to provide incidence by age, race, sex, and geographic location; frequency of invasive treatment; frequency of PE after treatment for DVT; frequency of recurrence of PE; and survival after diagnosis.


Annual incidence rates per 1000 at age 65 to 69 years for PE and DVT were 1.3 and 1.8, respectively. Both rates increased steadily with age to 2.8 and 3.1 by age 85 to 89 years. For PE, women had lower rates than men (adjusted relative risk, 0.86; 95% confidence interval, 0.82 to 0.90), and blacks had higher rates than whites (adjusted relative risk, 1.25; 95% confidence interval, 1.15 to 1.36). For DVT, the associations with gender and race were weaker and in the opposite direction. Pulmonary embolectomy was done in 0.2% of cases of PE; interruption of the vena cava was done in 4.4% of cases of PE and in 2% of cases of DVT. Thrombectomy was done in 0.3% of all cases. Pulmonary embolism occurred in 1.7% of patients with DVT within 1 year of hospital discharge for initial treatment. The 1-year recurrence rate for PE was 8.0%. In-hospital mortality associated with PE and DVT was 21% and 3%, respectively. One-year mortality was 39% and 21%, respectively.


Pulmonary embolism and DVT are common problems in the elderly. Both increase with age, but the effects of race and sex are small. Current treatment patterns appear to be effective in preventing both PE after DVT and recurrence of PE. Both are associated with substantial 1-year mortality, suggesting the need to understand the role of associated conditions as well as the indications for prophylaxis and the methods of treatment.

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