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Postgraduate Education Corner: CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS IN CRITICAL CARE MEDICINE |

Pulmonary Embolism in the Critically Ill*

David J. Carlbom, MD; Bruce L. Davidson, MD, MPH, FCCP
Author and Funding Information

*From the Pulmonary-Critical Care Medicine Division, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA.

Correspondence to: Bruce L. Davidson, MD, Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar, 575 Lexington Ave, Suite 670, New York NY 10022; e-mail: brucedavidson@pobox.com



Chest. 2007;132(1):313-324. doi:10.1378/chest.06-1854
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Pulmonary embolism in the critically ill requires considerations beyond anticoagulant therapy. Measurements of chamber size by echocardiography and CT and of circulating biomarkers identify higher-risk patients with moderate accuracy and may aid determination of patient acuity. Preserving right ventricular function requires judicious use of volume administration, vasopressor, and perhaps vasodilator therapies. Obstructing thrombus can be treated with fibrinolytic drugs, percutaneous instrumentation, or surgically, but these treatments may not be equally effective or safe. Anticoagulant therapy in critically ill patients is likely best administered IV. Bleeding complications should be assiduously sought but do not necessitate anticoagulant discontinuation in every case. The antidotes protamine, desmopressin acetate, factor VIII inhibitory bypass activity, and recombinant factor VIIa may each have a place in controlling anticoagulant-related bleeding. The grave prognosis of heparin-induced thrombocytopenia warrants close surveillance, with rapid switching to lepirudin, argatroban, or fondaparinux necessary if it is suspected. Retrievable vena cava filters can be lifesaving, and at least one type may be safely removed after residence of nearly 1 year.


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