Pulmonary embolism: update on management and controversies.

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Pulmonary embolism is a common and potentially fatal cardiovascular disorder that must be promptly diagnosed and treated. The diagnosis, risk assessment, and management of pulmonary embolism have evolved with a better understanding of efficient use of diagnostic and therapeutic options. The use of either clinical probability adjusted or age adjusted D-dimer interpretation has led to a reduction in diagnostic imaging to exclude pulmonary embolism. Direct oral anticoagulation therapies are safe, effective, and convenient treatments for most patients with acute venous thromboembolism, with a lower risk of bleeding than vitamin K antagonists. These oral therapeutic options have opened up opportunities for safe outpatient management of pulmonary embolism in selected patients. Recent clinical trials exploring the use of systemic thrombolysis in intermediate to high risk pulmonary embolism suggest that this therapy should be reserved for patients with evidence of hemodynamic compromise. The role of low dose systemic or catheter directed thrombolysis in other patient subgroups is uncertain. After a diagnosis of pulmonary embolism, all patients should be assessed for risk of recurrent venous thromboembolism to guide duration of anticoagulation. Patients with a venous thromboembolism associated with a strong, transient, provoking risk factor can safely discontinue anticoagulation after three months of treatment. Patients with an ongoing strong risk factor, such as cancer, or unprovoked events are at increased risk of recurrent events and should be considered for extended treatment. The use of a risk prediction score can help to identify patients with unprovoked venous thromboembolism who can benefit from extended duration therapy. Despite major advances in the management of pulmonary embolism, up to half of patients report chronic functional limitations. Such patients should be screened for chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension, but only a small proportion will have this as the explanation of their symptoms. In the remaining patients, future studies are needed to understand the pathophysiology and explore interventions to improve quality of life.


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