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Pulmonary embolism critical care update

prognosis, treatment, and research gaps

Chodakowski, Jason D.; Courtney, D. Mark

Current Opinion in Critical Care: December 2018 - Volume 24 - Issue 6 - p 540–546
doi: 10.1097/MCC.0000000000000558

Purpose of review We provide a timely update on treatment care issues facing clinicians and patients with acute pulmonary embolism accompanied by either right ventricular strain (sub-massive pulmonary embolism) or shock (massive pulmonary embolism).

Recent findings Care and research changes over the last several years have resulted in four important trends: more consensus and accuracy in the way acute pulmonary embolism severity is described and communicated among acute care clinicians and researchers, increased availability and use of risk prediction scoring systems, increased use of advanced invasive therapy in the setting of severe right ventricular dysfunction, and emergence of multidisciplinary pulmonary embolism response teams to guide standard care decision-making.

Summary Pulmonary embolism with shock should be treated with either systemic or catheter-based thrombolytic therapy in the absence of contraindications. Patients with sub-massive pulmonary embolism accompanied by right heart dysfunction who are treated with thrombolytic therapy likely will experience more rapid improvement in RV function and are less likely to progress to hemodynamic decompensation. This comes, however, with an increased risk of major bleeding. Our recommendation is to consider catheter-based or systemic fibrinolytic therapy in sub-massive pulmonary embolism cases where patients demonstrate high-risk features such as: severe RV strain on echo or CT, and importantly worsening over time trends in pulse, SBP, and oxygenation despite anticoagulation. Understanding the impact of advanced therapy beyond standard anticoagulation on patient-centered outcomes, such as functional status and quality of life represent a research knowledge gap.

Department of Emergency Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Correspondence to D. Mark Courtney, MD, MS, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, 211 E. Ontario Suite 200, Chicago, IL 60611, USA. Tel: +1 312 694 7000; e-mail:

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