Pulmonary embolism critical care update: prognosis, treatment, and research gaps

Jason D. Chodakowski, D. Mark Courtney

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Purpose of review We provide a timely update on treatment care issues facing clinicians and patients with acute pulmonary embolism accompanied by either right ventricular strain (sub-massive pulmonary embolism) or shock (massive pulmonary embolism). Recent findings Care and research changes over the last several years have resulted in four important trends: more consensus and accuracy in the way acute pulmonary embolism severity is described and communicated among acute care clinicians and researchers, increased availability and use of risk prediction scoring systems, increased use of advanced invasive therapy in the setting of severe right ventricular dysfunction, and emergence of multidisciplinary pulmonary embolism response teams to guide standard care decision-making. Summary Pulmonary embolism with shock should be treated with either systemic or catheter-based thrombolytic therapy in the absence of contraindications. Patients with sub-massive pulmonary embolism accompanied by right heart dysfunction who are treated with thrombolytic therapy likely will experience more rapid improvement in RV function and are less likely to progress to hemodynamic decompensation. This comes, however, with an increased risk of major bleeding. Our recommendation is to consider catheter-based or systemic fibrinolytic therapy in sub-massive pulmonary embolism cases where patients demonstrate high-risk features such as: severe RV strain on echo or CT, and importantly worsening over time trends in pulse, SBP, and oxygenation despite anticoagulation. Understanding the impact of advanced therapy beyond standard anticoagulation on patient-centered outcomes, such as functional status and quality of life represent a research knowledge gap.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)540-546
Number of pages7
JournalCurrent opinion in critical care
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Risk stratification
  • Thrombolytic therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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