Initial symptoms in pulmonary embolism differ from those in pneumonia: a retrospective study during seven years

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Abstract

Objective

To compare initial symptoms in pulmonary embolism with community-acquired pneumonia and relate to C-reactive protein and pulmonary infiltrates in order to improve the clinical assessment at the emergency department.

Methods

A retrospective review of patients with pulmonary embolism diagnosed in the clinic for infectious diseases (CID), (n=25), and a randomized sample of patients with pulmonary embolism diagnosed in the department of medicine (n=64), and a randomized sample of patients with community-acquired pneumonia (n=54) diagnosed in the clinic for infectious diseases.

Results

Initial symptoms in pulmonary embolism, dominated by dyspnoea and/or pleuritic chest pain were significantly different from those in community-acquired pneumonia, dominated by fever, chills and/or cough (P<0.001). On admission, C-reactive protein and body temperature were significantly higher and pulmonary infiltrates were more common in pneumonia compared with randomized pulmonary embolism patients. Twenty-five patients with a final diagnosis of pulmonary embolism were erroneously suspected of having lung infection, owing to increased C-reactive protein, presence of pulmonary infiltrates and/or high fever. However, they had classical symptoms of pulmonary embolism.

Conclusions

Pulmonary infiltrates, high fever and a high level of C-reactive protein can deceive the physician to suspect pneumonia instead of pulmonary embolism. Classical initial symptoms ought to direct the physician in diagnosing pulmonary embolism. We emphasize a detailed patient history of initial symptoms.

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