What are the risks of undiagnosed pulmonary embolism (PE)?

Updated: Jun 06, 2019
  • Author: Daniel R Ouellette, MD, FCCP; Chief Editor: Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP  more...
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Answer

Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a common and potentially lethal condition. Most patients who succumb to pulmonary embolism do so within the first few hours of the event. Despite diagnostic advances, delays in pulmonary embolism diagnosis are common and represent an important issue. [6] As a cause of sudden death, massive pulmonary embolism is second only to sudden cardiac death.

In patients who survive a pulmonary embolism, recurrent embolism and death can be prevented with prompt diagnosis and therapy. Unfortunately, the diagnosis is often missed because patients with pulmonary embolism present with nonspecific signs and symptoms. If left untreated, approximately one third of patients who survive an initial pulmonary embolism die from a subsequent embolic episode. (See Prognosis.)


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