Diagnosis of suspected venous thromboembolism
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The primary goal of diagnostic testing for venous thromboembolism (VTE) is to identify all patients who could benefit from anticoagulant therapy. Test results that identify patients as having a ≤2% risk of VTE in the next 3 months are judged to exclude deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE). Clinical evaluation, with assessment of: (1) clinical pretest probability (CPTP) for VTE; (2) likelihood of important alternative diagnoses; and (3) the probable yield of D-dimer and various imaging tests, guide which tests should be performed. The combination of nonhigh CPTP and negative D-dimer testing excludes DVT or PE in one-third to a half of outpatients. Venous ultrasound of the proximal veins, with or without examination of the distal veins, is the primary imaging test for leg and upper-extremity DVT. If a previous test is not available for comparison, the positive predictive value of ultrasound is low in patients with previous DVT. Computed tomography pulmonary angiography (CTPA) is the primary imaging test for PE and often yields an alternative diagnosis when there is no PE. Ventilation-perfusion scanning is associated with less radiation exposure than CTPA and is preferred in younger patients, particularly during pregnancy. If DVT or PE cannot be "ruled-in" or "ruled-out" by initial diagnostic testing, patients can usually be managed safely by: (1) withholding anticoagulant therapy; and (2) doing serial ultrasound examinations to detect new or extending DVT.
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