AssessmentsDeep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism: Pathology review
USMLE® Step 1 style questions USMLE
A 55-year-old woman comes to the emergency department because of new onset shortness of breath and chest pain for the past 3 hours. She reports that she was walking to her car when the symptoms started, and she describes the pain as sharp and worse with deep inhalation. Additionally, she says she has been coughing up bloody mucus for the past hour. Her medical history is significant for breast cancer, for which she is currently undergoing radiation therapy. Her temperature is 37.5°C (99.5°F), pulse is 110/min, respirations are 24/min, blood pressure is 140/80 mm Hg, and oxygen saturation is 89% on room air. Troponin is 0.08 ng/mL and brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) is 425 pg/mL. Which of the following is the best investigation for diagnosing this patient’s condition?
Content Reviewers:Yifan Xiao, MD
Hannah is a 42 year old woman who came to the emergency department due to pain in her right calf.
She reports flying from Japan back to the United States 2 days ago.
She denies fever, chills, or history of trauma to the leg.
She reports a 25 pack year smoking history for 20 years, and she takes oral contraceptive pills.
On physical examination, she is stable, and her BMI is 32.
Her right leg is shown in this image.
On laboratory investigation, her D-dimer levels are elevated.
People with varicose veins are also at risk of DVT, because incompetent venous valves prevent proper venous outflow, causing stasis.
Another similar cause is May-Thurner syndrome where the left iliac vein gets sandwiched between the right iliac artery anteriorly and the lumbar vertebrae posteriorly, which also leads to venous stasis.
This is especially prominent in membranous glomerulonephropathy.
Finally, endothelial damage, like when there’s truma, can expose the underlying collagen, which initiates the coagulation cascade.
The popliteal veins of the calf are most commonly affected, however, it’s important to remember that the more proximal iliofemoral DVTs that commonly embolize and cause PE. DVTs present with unilateral, painful swelling and redness of the affected extremity.
So, when it comes to diagnosis, the best choice on an exam is a compression ultrasound with Doppler.
Normally, veins are easily compressible using the ultrasound probe, but when there’s a clot, the affected vein becomes incompressible.
Now, PE most commonly occurs when a DVT breaks off and travels to the pulmonary artery or one of its branches.
When the pulmonary artery is obstructed, perfusion to the supplied segment of the lung is limited.
However, there’s nothing wrong with ventilation.
This decreases the oxygen saturation in the blood, or hypoxemia.
In response to hypoxemia, the pulmonary blood vessels vasoconstrict, which shunts blood from the poorly perfused segments to the well-perfused segments.
This process is called intrapulmonary shunting.
Additionally, peripheral chemoreceptors pick up on hypoxemia, and send signals to the brain to increase ventilation in an attempt to compensate. hyperventilation causes the individual to blow off lots of carbon dioxide, resulting in respiratory alkalosis.
Now, most of the time, when a clot occludes a blood vessel, the distal organ tissue dies becomes infarcted.
Okay, so large emboli that occlude the pulmonary trunk place tremendous amounts of sudden pressure on the right heart, so it’s important for you to remember that this can result in acute right heart failure and a form of shock called obstructive shock.
Okay, now let’s tie the pathophysiology to the clinical presentation.
PE can also present with pleuritic chest pain that is worse on inspiration.
Additionally, hemorrhagic infarction may cause the individual to develop hemoptysis.
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