“Doc I’m a little short of breath…”

July 9, 2013

Chest, CT, Non-Trauma, Respiratory

I had a man present the other day with dyspnea, mostly on exertion, minimal pleuritic chest pain.  He was hemodynamically stable while sitting in the gurney but would desaturate to the high 80s and become tachycardic with walking several feet.  He had a history of recently diagnosed multiple myeloma and was awaiting treatment initiation.  Here’s what we found on Chest CT:

Central PE 2Central PE 1


The chest CT shows a “saddle embolus.”  This is a pulmonary embolus that is very large and located in the proximal pulmonary artery before it bifurcates into the right and left pulmonary arterial tree.  This type of pulmonary embolus represents a large clot burden that can easily lead to hemodynamic instability and sudden death.  In fact, it was very suprising that this patient was so stable sitting in the gurney.  Initially he was reading a book on his tablet which I usually associate with no emergent pathology! 

This is a good time to review the indications for thrombolysis in pulmonary embolus:

  • Severe hypoxemia
  • Intractable hypotension
  • Large perfusion defect on ventilation-perfusion scans
  • Extensive embolic burden on computed tomography
  • Right ventricular dysfunction
  • Free-floating right atrial or ventricular thrombus
  • Patent foramen ovale
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation

These are all relative indications and it is important to weigh the risks of thrombolytics on a case-by-case basis.  There are no true indications for thrombolytics.  There are many widely accepted contraindications…I’ll leave it up to the reader to search for these. 

Author:  Russell Jones, MD


1.  Tapson, VF.  Fibrinolytic (thrombolytic) therapy in acute pulmonary embolus and deep venous thrombosis.  www.uptodate.com.  Accessed 7/2013.

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EMREMS: Radiology in Emergency Medicine

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