Introduction Although there have been many advancements made over the last three decades in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of pulmonary embolism (PE), it continues to be a major cause of mortality among hospitalized patients. It is unknown whether the demographic characteristics of patients who die from PE have changed in that period of time.
Methods We performed a retrospective review of hospitalized adult patients who were found to have PE as the sole or contributing cause of death on post-mortem examination from 1970 through 2003 at UCSD Medical Center. We performed linear regression to determine if their clinical characteristics had changed over time.
Results The mean incidence of clinically significant pulmonary embolism, as a percentage of total autopsies per year was 5.4% and did not change significantly over the thirty-four years of the study (r = 0.24). Likewise, linear regression showed no significant change over time in the distributions of sex (54.1% males, r = 0.13) or age (mean = 61.2 years, r = 0.07).
Conclusion We conclude that there have been no significant changes in the incidence of patients dying from PE who received autopsies in the last thirty-four years, or in their age and sex distributions. Whether the deaths were completely unsuspected, were associated with missed diagnoses or occurred during treatment, and whether the trends have been changing over time, are the subjects of ongoing investigation.