Diagnosis of pulmonary embolus using ventilation/perfusion lung scintigraphy: more than 0.5 segment of ventilation/perfusion mismatch is sufficient

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To determine the optimal diagnostic cut-off point using a simplified criterion for the detection of pulmonary embolus (PE) and to evaluate the criterion's utility and reporter reproducibility.


Lung scintigraphy was carried out in 924 patients for the diagnosis of PE. This group consisted of 316 men and 608 women with median age of 63 years (range 18–94 years). Ventilation imaging was carried out with Tc-99m Technegas followed by perfusion imaging using 190 MBq Tc-99m macroaggregated albumin. Studies were classified using a 6-category probability criterion of incremental ventilation/perfusion (V/Q) mismatch: A, normal; B, low (minor matched V/Q defects or segmental matched V/Q defects without opacity on chest X-ray); C, low-moderate (a partial segment of V/Q mismatch); D, moderate (1 segment of mismatch); E, moderate-high (1–2 segments of V/Q mismatch) and F, high probability (=2 segments of V/Q mismatch). Clinical end-points at 3 and 6 months were death by PE or PE treated with anticoagulation therapy. Three-reporter reproducibility was determined by kappa statistic on a subgroup of patients (53/924).


A total of 122 patients (13%) had a confirmed diagnosis of PE at 3 months and no additional cases were registered at 6 months. The lung scintigraphy probability classification showed: normal 152 (16%), low 620 (67%), low-moderate 20 (2%), moderate 28 (3%), moderate-high 24 (3%) and high 80 (9%). The respective sensitivities and specificities, where the diagnostic cut-offs were established at F, high; E, moderate-high; D, moderate and C, low-moderate probability, were F, 64 and 100%; E, 82 and 99%; D, 95 and 98% and C, 98 and 96%. The respective false-negative cases for F, E, D and C cut-offs were 44, 22, 7 and 3. Using the revised Prospective Investigation of Pulmonary Embolism Diagnosis reporting classification reporter agreement showed kappa values of 0.31–0.48. Using a simplified 2-category (>0.5 segment of V/Q mismatch positive, all others negative) criterion resulted in a higher reporting agreement (kappa 0.74–0.83). There were only 3% of indeterminate cases if this was defined by the D category and a maximum of 8% if categories C, D and E were included.


Using a simplified diagnostic criterion where all studies showing >0.5 segments of V/Q mismatch are regarded as positive and all others as negative, lung scintigraphy, incorporating Tc-99m Technegas ventilation imaging or its equivalent, can achieve a very high diagnostic accuracy for the detection of PE. Using this technique, less than 5% of scans are indeterminate. A simplified, unambiguous approach to reporting is recommended.

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