Simultaneous presence of PE in patients with AE-COPD is not rare, particularly in those with unexplained AE-COPD. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis reported a pooled PE prevalence of 16.1% (95% C.I. 8.3%-25.8%) in unexplained AE-COPD, with 68% of emboli found in the main pulmonary arteries, lobar arteries or inter-lobar arteries (i.e. not subsegmental); the pooled prevalence of deep venous thrombosis (DVT) was 10.5% (95% C.I. 4.3%-19.0%) 1. Pleuritic chest pain and signs of cardiac failure were associated with AE-COPD, while symptoms suggestive of a respiratory tract infection argued against PE.
It remains unclear, however, if the threshold for evaluation of venous thromboembolism (VTE) should necessarily differ between patients with explained vs unexplained AE-COPD. In one small study, the prevalence of VTE in “unexplained” AE-COPD was significantly higher (25%) than “explained” AE-COPD (including cases with tracheobronchitis, pneumonia, cardiac disorders, exposure to irritant inhalants, and lack of compliance with treatment), but the VTE prevalence for the latter group was still 8.4%2. Serum D-dimer level and Wells criteria may help exclude VTE in this patient population.
- Aleva FE, Voets LWLM, Simons SO, et al. Prevalence and localization of pulmonary embolism in unexplained acute exacerbations of COPD: A systematic review and meta-analysis. CHEST (2016), doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2016.07.034.
- Gunen H, Gulbas G, In E, Yetkin O, Hacievliyagil SS. Venous thromboemboli and exacerbations of COPD. Eur Respir J 2010;35:1243-1248.
Contributed by Jeff Greenwald, MD, Core Educator Faculty, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital