Pulmonary embolism on postmortem examination: an under-recognized complication in lung-transplant recipients?
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INTRODUCTION: Postmortem reports highlight the importance of factors that individually or collectively limit survival. The prevalence of pulmonary embolism (PE) at autopsy in lung-transplant recipients has not been characterized previously. OBJECTIVE: We aimed to describe the prevalence of PE, infection, and acute and chronic rejection at autopsy and their respective contributions to death in lung-transplant recipients according to survival posttransplantation. METHODS: We retrospectively reviewed 126 autopsy reports performed in lung-and heart-lung-transplant recipients between June 1990 and September 2002. RESULTS: PE was identified at autopsy in 34 (27.0%) of 126 lung- and heart-lung-transplant recipients. The prevalence of autopsy-established PE was highest, at 36.4%, in the early group (1-30 days) compared with 20.0% and 23.8% in the intermediate (31-365 days) and late (>365 days) groups, respectively. Although fungal and viral pneumonia were noted most frequently in the early and intermediate groups, bacterial pneumonia was noted in 32% to 45% of autopsies over the posttransplant period. Acute cellular rejection and bronchiolitis obliterans were present in 29.5% and 2.3%, 40.0% and 17.5%, and 35.7% and 42.9% of patients in the early, intermediate, and late groups, respectively. The most frequent cause of death was bacterial infection. CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of PE was highest in mechanically ventilated lung-transplant recipients in the early postoperative period. Heart-lung recipients were at lower risk for PE compared with double- and single-lung recipients. PE may be an under-appreciated complication contributing to respiratory failure in the early postoperative period.
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