Background: Spiral computed tomography (CT) has emerged as a potentially conclusive diagnostic test to exclude pulmonary embolism (PE) in patients with non-high probability scintigraphy and is already widely used-sometimes as the sole primary diagnostic test in the diagnosis of suspected PE. Its true sensitivity and specificity has, however, not been evaluated previously in a large cohort of consecutive patients. Methods: In a multicenter prospective study 627 consecutive patients with clinically suspected PE were studied. Patients with normal perfusion scintigraphy were excluded from further analysis. Single-detector spiral CT scanning and ventilation scintigraphy were then performed in all patients to diagnose PE, while pulmonary angiography was performed as the gold standard. The only exceptions were those patients who had both a high-probability VQ scan and a CT scan positive for PE: these patients were considered to have PE and did not undergo additional pulmonary angiography. All imaging tests were read by independent expert panels. Results: Five hundred and seventeen patients were available for complete analysis. The prevalence of PE was 32%. Spiral CT correctly identified 88 of 128 patients with PE, and 92 of 109 patients without PE, for a sensitivity and specificity of 69% [95% confidence interval (CI) 63-75] and 84% (95% CI 80-89), respectively. The sensitivity of spiral CT was 86% (95% CI 80-92) for segmental or larger PE and 21% (95% CI 14-29) in the group of patients with subsegmental PE. Conclusion: The overall sensitivity of spiral CT for PE is too low to endorse its use as the sole test to exclude PE. This holds true even if one limits the discussion to patients with larger PE in segmental or larger pulmonary artery branches. We conclude that, in patients with clinically suspected PE and an abnormal perfusion scintigraphy, single-slice detector spiral CT is not sensitive enough to be used as the sole test to exclude PE.

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Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis
Department of Radiology

van Strijen, M., de Monyé, W., Kieft, G., Pattynama, P., Prins, M., & Huisman, M. (2005). Accuracy of single-detector spiral CT in the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism: A prospective multicenter cohort study of consecutive patients with abnormal perfusion scintigraphy. Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis, 3(1), 17–25. doi:10.1111/j.1538-7836.2004.01064.x