How is pulmonary embolism (PE) diagnosed during pregnancy?

Updated: Sep 18, 2020
  • Author: Daniel R Ouellette, MD, FCCP; Chief Editor: Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP  more...
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The diagnostic approach to patients with pulmonary embolism should be exactly the same in a pregnant patient as in a nonpregnant one. A nuclear perfusion lung scan is safe in pregnancy, as is a chest CT scan.

Guidelines by the professional societies on the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism make this difficult assessment easier and reduce the risks of radiation to the fetus. If the patient has a low pretest probability for pulmonary embolism and a normal D-dimer test result, clinical exclusion from further investigations is recommended. When the suspicion is high, the patients should have bilateral leg Doppler assessment. If the results are positive, the patient should be treated for pulmonary embolism. If the results are negative, CT pulmonary angiography is the next step. To rule out contrast-induced hypothyroidism, all neonates exposed to the iodinated contrast in utero should have their serum thyrotropin level checked in the first week of life.

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