What is the incidence of symptoms of pulmonary embolism (PE)?

Updated: Sep 18, 2020
  • Author: Daniel R Ouellette, MD, FCCP; Chief Editor: Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP  more...
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The PIOPED study reported the following incidence of common symptoms of pulmonary embolism [35] :

  • Dyspnea (73%)

  • Pleuritic chest pain (66%)

  • Cough (37%)

  • Hemoptysis (13%)

Fever of less than 39°C (102.2ºF) may be present in 14% of patients; however, temperature higher than 39.5°C (103.1º) Fis not from pulmonary embolism. Chest wall tenderness upon palpation, without a history of trauma, may be the sole physical finding in rare cases.

Pleuritic chest pain without other symptoms or risk factors may be a presentation of pulmonary embolism. Pleuritic or respirophasic chest pain is a particularly worrisome symptom. Pleuritic chest pain is reported to occur in as many as 84% of patients with pulmonary emboli. Its presence suggests that the embolus is located more peripherally and thus may be smaller.

Pulmonary embolism has been diagnosed in 21% of young, active patients who come to emergency departments (EDs) complaining only of pleuritic chest pain. These patients usually lack any other classical signs, symptoms, or known risk factors for pulmonary thromboembolism. Such patients often are dismissed inappropriately with an inadequate workup and a nonspecific diagnosis, such as musculoskeletal chest pain or pleurisy.

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