My patient with significant dyspnea appears to have an acute exacerbation of his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (AE-COPD). How often do AE-COPD and pulmonary embolism (PE) coexist?

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.

References

  1. 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.
  2. 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

My patient with significant dyspnea appears to have an acute exacerbation of his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (AE-COPD). How often do AE-COPD and pulmonary embolism (PE) coexist?

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