Pulmonary embolism (PE) is an age-related disorder which is potentially fatal, but frequently misdiagnosed. However, the true prevalence of pulmonary embolism is unknown. Inaccurate estimates of PE prevalence might, in part, be attributable to underrecognition of atypical presentations of this disorder. If true prevalence is unknown, the positive predictive values of both typical and atypical symptoms and signs of PE will be unreliable. The negative predictive value of those parameters will, likewise, be unreliable. The aim of this review is to make clinicians more aware of atypical manifestations of PE, thereby increasing the likelihood of correct diagnosis and, hence, ascertainment of the true prevalence of PE. The range of atypical manifestations was explored by a literature search, using MEDLINE from 1946 to February 2019, and EMBASE, from 1947 to February 2019, and Pubmed, from February 2014 to February 2019, using the search terms atypical, uncommon, unusual, pulmonary embolism, lung embolism, pulmonary thromboembolism.
This search revealed atypical presenting features such as non pleuritic retrosternal pain, abdominal pain, atypical breathing patterns, pulmonary oedema, Dressler’s syndrome, atypical radiographic manifestations, atypical electrocardiographic features, manifestations associated with oxygen saturation of 95% or more, coexistence of acute myocardial infarction and pulmonary embolism, coexistence of thoracic aortic dissection and pulmonary embolism, neurological manifestations other than stroke, paradoxical embolism, acute venous thrombosis of atypical location, and pulmonary embolism with normal D-dimer levels.