Where Do Pulmonary Emboli Really Come From?

For a long time, we “knew” that pulmonary emboli were a possible and dreaded complication of deep venous thrombosis (DVT). However, we are beginning to discover that this is not always the case. The group in San Diego decided to see if there really are two different types of PE in trauma, and what that means.

Here’s another VTE paper from Scripps Mercy Hospital, a level I trauma center in San Diego. It looked at 5 ½ years of their experience with adult trauma patients who were routinely screened for DVT. Any of these patients who developed a PE within 6 weeks of admission were evaluated further.

Here are the factoids:

  • Duplex screening from groin to ankle was carried out twice weekly in ICU patients, and once weekly in ward patients
  • Surveillance was carried out if the patient would be non-ambulatory for more than 72 hours, or were at moderate or higher risk for DVT using the ACCP guidelines
  • Nearly 12,000 patients were evaluated by the trauma service and 2,881 underwent surveillance
  • 31 patients (1%) developed a PE
  • 12 of these 31 had DVT identified before or immediately after their PE. Clot was below-knee in 9 (!), above-knee in 2, and in the IJ in one.
  • 19 patients had PE but no DVT identified (de novo PE, DNPE)
  • DNPE tended to be single and peripherally located, and associated with rib fractures, pulmonary contusions, blood transfusions, and pneumonia
  • DVT + PE were more often found in multiple lobes or bilaterally

Bottom line: Like most, this is not a perfect study, but it’s a really good one. It is looking more and more likely that some PEs arise de novo, without any associated DVT. These clots are more likely to be linked to some type of inflammatory process, and have a tendency toward causing more of the classic signs and symptoms of PE. There are still lots of questions to be answered, like do you need to anticoagulate the de novo PEs? But for now, no change in practice. Just be aware that these might not be as bad as they seem.

Reference: Pulmonary embolism without deep venous thrombosis: de novo or missed deep venous thrombosis? J Trauma 76(5):1270-1281, 2014.

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