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Occurrence of pulmonary embolisms in hospitalized patients nearly doubled during 2004-2015

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Catheter-directed therapy dominates current major PE treatment

At my center, Allegheny General Hospital, we often rely on catheter-directed therapy to treat major pulmonary embolism. We now perform more catheter-directed interventions than surgical embolectomies. Generally, when treating patients with major pulmonary embolism it comes down to a choice between those two options. We rarely use systemic thrombolysis for major pulmonary embolism any more.

Dr. Raymond L. Benza, professor of medicine, Temple University College of Medicine, Pittsburgh Mitchel L. Zoler/MDedge News

Dr. Raymond L. Benza

Hospital staffs now do a lot of screening for pulmonary embolism, so I’m surprised to see these data showing that the in-hospital diagnosis has been increasing. If the data are representative, it suggests that the staffs must do a better job preventing pulmonary embolism by using appropriate prophylaxis for deep vein thrombosis.

Raymond L. Benza, MD , is professor of medicine at Temple University College of Medicine and program director for advanced heart failure at the Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh. He has been a consultant to Actelion, Gilead, and United Therapeutics, and he has received research funding from Bayer. He made these comments in an interview.



The incidence of pulmonary embolism diagnosed in hospitalized U.S. patients nearly doubled during the period 2004-2015 based on data collected by the National Inpatient Sample.

During 2004-2015 the incidence of all diagnosed pulmonary embolism (PE), based on discharge diagnoses, rose from 5.4 cases/1,000 hospitalized patients in 2004 to 9.7 cases/1,000 hospitalized patients in 2015, an 80% increase, Joshua B. Goldberg, MD said at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology. The incidence of major PE – defined as a patient who needed vasopressor treatment, mechanical ventilation, or had nonseptic shock – rose from 7.9% of all hospitalized PE diagnoses in 2004 to 9.7% in 2015, a 23% relative increase.

Dr. Joshua B. Goldberg, Westchester Medical Center, Valhalla, N.Y. Mitchel L. Zoler/MDedge News

Dr. Joshua B. Goldberg

The data also documented a shifting pattern of treatment for all hospitalized patients with PE, and especially among patients with major PE. During the study period, treatment with systemic thrombolysis for all PE rose nearly threefold, and catheter-directed therapy began to show a steady rise in use from 0.2% of all patients in 2011 (and before) to 1% of all patients by 2015. Surgical intervention remained lightly used throughout, with about 0.2% of all PE patients undergoing surgery annually.

Most of these intervention options focused on patients with major PE. Among patients in this subgroup with more severe disease, use of one of these three types of interventions rose from 6% in 2004 to 12% in 2015, mostly driven by a rise in systemic thrombolysis, which jumped from 3% of major PE in 2004 to 9% in 2015. However, the efficacy of systemic thrombolysis in patients with major PE remains suspect. In 2004, 39% of patients with major PE treated with systemic thrombolysis died in hospital; in 2015 the number was 47%. “The data don’t support using systemic thrombolysis to treat major PE; the mortality is high,” noted Dr. Goldberg, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y.

Although catheter-directed therapy began to be much more widely used in U.S. practice starting in about 2015, during the period studied its use for major PE held fairly steady at roughly 2%-3%, but this approach also showed substantial shortcomings for the major PE population. These sicker patients treated with catheter-directed therapy had 37% mortality in 2004 and a 31% mortality in 2015, a difference that was not statistically significant. In general, PE patients enrolled in the catheter-directed therapy trials were not as sick as the major PE patients who get treated with surgery in routine practice, Dr. Goldberg said in an interview.

The data showed much better performance using surgery, although only 1,237 patients of the entire group of 713,083 PE patients studied in the database underwent surgical embolectomy. Overall, in-hospital mortality in these patients was 22%, but in a time trend analysis, mortality among all PE patients treated with surgery fell from 32% in 2004 to 14% in 2015; among patients with major PE treated with surgery, mortality fell from 52% in 2004 to 21% in 2015.

Dr. Goldberg attributed the success of surgery in severe PE patients to the definitive nature of embolectomy and the concurrent use of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation that helps stabilize acutely ill PE patients. He also cited refinements that surgery underwent during the 2004-2015 period based on the experience managing chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension, including routine use of cardiopulmonary bypass during surgery. “Very high risk [PE] patients should go straight to surgery, unless the patient is at high risk for surgery because of conditions like prior sternotomy or very advanced age, in which case catheter-directed therapy may be a safer option, he said. He cited a recent 5% death rate after surgery at his center among patients with major PE who did not require cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

The database Dr. Goldberg and his collaborator reviewed included 12,735 patients treated by systemic thrombolysis, and 2,595 treated by catheter-directed therapy. Patients averaged 63 years old. The most common indicator of major PE was mechanical ventilation, used on 8% of all PE patients in the study. Non-septic shock occurred in 2%, and just under 1% needed vasopressor treatment.

Published guidelines on PE management from several medical groups are “vague and have numerous caveats,” Dr. Goldberg said. He is participating in an update to the 2011 PE management statement from the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association (Circulation. 2011 April 26;123[16]:1788-1830).

The study received no commercial funding. Dr. Goldberg had no disclosures.

SOURCE: Haider A et al. J Amer Coll Cardiol. 2019 March;73:9[suppl 1]: doi: 10.1016/S0735-1097(19)32507-0

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