The Wells clinical decision rule (CDR) and D-dimer tests can be used to exclude pulmonary embolism (PE). We performed a meta-analysis to determine the negative predictive value (NPV) of an "unlikely" CDR (<or=4 points) combined with a normal D-dimer test and the safety of withholding anti-coagulants based on these criteria.
Prospective studies that withheld anti-coagulant treatment from patients with clinically suspected PE and an "unlikely" CDR in combination with a normal D-dimer concentration without performing further tests were searched for in Medline, Cochrane and Embase. Primary endpoints were the recurrence rate of venous thromboembolism (VTE) and PE-related mortality during 3-months follow-up.
Four studies including 1660 consecutive patients were identified. The pooled incidence of VTE after initial exclusion of acute PE based on an "unlikely" CDR and normal D-dimer was 0.34% (95%CI 0.036-0.96%), resulting in a NPV of 99.7% (95%CI: 99.0-99.9%, random effects-model). The risk for PE related mortality was very low: 1/1660 patients had fatal PE (0.06%, 95%CI 0.0017-0.46%).
Acute PE can be safely excluded in patients with clinically suspected acute PE who have an "unlikely" probability and a negative D-dimer test and anticoagulant treatment can be withheld. There is no need for additional radiological tests in these patients to rule out PE.