Some Hospitalized COPD Patients May Have Pulmonary Embolism

Nearly one fourth of people who are hospitalized because of a flare-up of their COPD may have a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lungs). This finding is from a review of five studies that included 550 COPD patients who experienced an exacerbation.

Because symptoms of COPD and pulmonary embolism may be the same—increased coughing and shortness of breath—patients were tested for pulmonary embolism using computed tomography scanning or pulmonary angiography, an x-ray of the blood vessels in the lung. Overall, 20 percent of COPD patients with flare-ups and 25 percent of those who were hospitalized for flare-ups had a pulmonary embolism.

Pulmonary embolisms are associated with a three-month mortality rate of 15 to 18 percent even in patients who are given anticlotting medication. In patients with COPD, however, the death risk is nearly double. Any delay in diagnosis or start of treatment significantly increases the risk of death.

The cause of nearly 30 percent of COPD exacerbations is not known. If you are hospitalized for COPD and the cause of the exacerbation is not apparent, your doctor may order tests to determine if you have an embolism, especially if you have a history of cancer or other risk factors, such as heart disease.

Source: Chest Volume 135, page 786; March 2009

Publication Review By: Peter B. Terry, M.D., M.A.

Published: 12 Aug 2013

Last Modified: 12 Aug 2013