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Pulmonary embolism: impact of right ventricular dysfunction

Konstantinides, Stavros

Diseases of the aorta, pulmonary and peripheral vessels

Purpose of review: The appropriate treatment of patients with acute pulmonary embolism who present with right ventricular dysfunction but normal arterial blood pressure, and particularly the potential benefits of thrombolytic treatment in this setting, continue to be highly controversial. In the past year, several well designed studies improved our understanding of subclinical right ventricular dysfunction in pulmonary embolism, and emerging risk stratification algorithms now appear to identify high-risk patients reliably.

Recent findings: A meta-analysis confirmed that echocardiographically diagnosed right ventricular dysfunction is an independent predictor of early mortality in normotensive patients with pulmonary embolism. Retrospective studies suggest that similar information can also be obtained by multidetector-row chest computed tomography. Recent data indicate that biomarker (particularly troponin) testing followed by echocardiographic imaging of the right ventricle is an efficient and reliable strategy both for excluding (ruling out) and for predicting (ruling in) a poor outcome in patients with pulmonary embolism.

Summary: Novel risk stratification algorithms may help identify possible candidates for early thrombolytic treatment in pulmonary embolism and thus provide the background for a large international multicenter study that will hopefully resolve the 30-year-old debate on the benefits of thrombolysis in normotensive patients with pulmonary embolism and right ventricular dysfunction.

Department of Cardiology and Pulmonary Medicine, Georg August University of Goettingen, Germany

Correspondence to Stavros Konstantinides, MD, Professor of Medicine, Georg August University of Goettingen, Department of Cardiology and Pulmonary Medicine, Robert Koch Strasse 40, D-37075 Goettingen, Germany

Tel: +49 551 39 8927; fax: +49 551 39 14131; e-mail: skonstan@med.uni-goettingen.de

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.