Original Contributions| Volume 54, ISSUE 5, P585-592, May 2018

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Use of the d-dimer for Detecting Pulmonary Embolism in the Emergency Department



      Assessment for pulmonary embolism (PE) in the emergency department (ED) remains complex, involving clinical decision tools, blood tests, and imaging.


      Our objective was to examine the test characteristics of the high-sensitivity d-dimer for the diagnosis of PE at our institution and evaluate use of the d-dimer and factors associated with a falsely elevated d-dimer.


      We retrospectively collected data on adult patients evaluated with a d-dimer and computed tomography (CT) pulmonary angiogram or ventilation perfusion scan at two EDs between June 4, 2012 and March 30, 2016. We collected symptoms (dyspnea, unilateral leg swelling, hemoptysis), vital signs, and medical and social history (cancer, recent surgery, medications, history of deep vein thrombosis or PE, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, smoking). We calculated test characteristics, including sensitivity, specificity, and likelihood ratios for the assay using conventional threshold and with age adjustment, and performed a univariate analysis.


      We found 3523 unique visits with d-dimer and imaging, detecting 198 PE. Imaging was pursued on 1270 patients with negative d-dimers, revealing 9 false negatives, and d-dimer was sent on 596 patients for whom negative Pulmonary Embolism Rule-Out Criteria (PERC) were documented with 2% subsequent radiographic detection of PE. The d-dimer showed a sensitivity of 95.7% (95% confidence interval [CI] 91–98%), specificity of 40.0% (95% CI 38–42%), negative likelihood ratio of 0.11 (95% CI 0.06–0.21), and positive likelihood ratio of 1.59 (95% CI 1.53–1.66) for the radiographic detection of PE. With age adjustment, 347 of the 2253 CT scans that were pursued in patients older than 50 years with an elevated d-dimer could have been avoided without missing any additional PE. Many risk factors, such as age, history of PE, recent surgery, shortness of breath, tachycardia and hypoxia, elevated the d-dimer, regardless of the presence of PE.


      Many patients with negative d-dimer and PERC still received imaging. Our data support the use of age adjustment, and perhaps adjustment for other factors seen in patients evaluated for PE.


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