B. Bring in an ultrasound technician to perform an after-hours study to exclude DVT;
C. Start the patient on antibiotics, low molecular weight heparin and arrange an outpatient ultrasound tomorrow; or
D. Calculate the patient’s risk of DVT and
determine whether you can use a D-dimer assay to exclude the diagnosis of DVT?
If you did not consider option #4, hopefully, this article can convince you of a new diagnostic option for a clinical scenario emergency physicians routinely experience.
Wells, the creator of the DVT clinical prediction rule, authored a meta-analysis on the use of a formal score plus a D-dimer assay to rule out DVT. Essentially, this study involved an extensive and systematic review of the literature to find all potentially relevant studies on the topic. The authors then used formal criteria to select relevant articles, choosing only high quality studies. The results of the studies were statistically combined to determine a common answer.
From the 11 articles involving nearly 5700 patients, the following conclusions were made.
A patient with a low risk score (<=0 points) has a 5% risk of DVT. This decreases to 0.9% if a moderately-sensitive (negative Likelihood Ratio 0.20) D-dimer assay (e.g. whole blood agglutination) is negative and 0.5% if a highly-sensitive (negative Likelihood Ratio 0.10) D-dimer assay (e.g. ELISA) is negative.
In patients with a moderate risk score (1-2 points), the risk of DVT is 17%. If a highly-sensitive D-dimer assay is negative (negative Likelihood Ratio 0.05) the risk decreases to 1%.
In patients with a high risk score (>2 points) no D-dimer assay can safely rule out DVT.
Should I only use highly-sensitive D-dimer assays? The problem with highly-sensitive assays is that they can be falsely positive. Old age, comorbid illness and other conditions can lead to a positive test, even in the absence of venous thromboembolic disease. Using a highly-sensitive rather than a moderately-sensitive assay in low risk patients, may lead to more false positive tests requiring further diagnostic testing (e.g. ultrasound). So, you will not be any further ahead!
The Wells’s clinical prediction rule for DVT is not easy to remember. You can readily find PDA or paper versions to carry with you. However, be cautious when Googling Wells’s score, ensuring that you are using the Wells’s score for DVT and NOT for pulmonary embolism.
Jonathan Sherbino, MD, MEd, FRCPC, is on the BEEM faculty and is an assistant professor, Division of Emergency Medicine, McMaster University