A 40 year old woman was admitted to the emergency department (ED) after a syncopal episode. On admission she was in acute respiratory distress and described a two day history of sudden onset breathlessness. She had no previous medical history. Her only regular medication was the oral contraceptive pill. She had had a recent flu-like illness and been less active than usual. On arrival she had a respiratory rate of 30 breaths/minute with accessory muscle use. An ABG on 15L/min oxygen via non-rebreathe mask showed type I respiratory failure (PO2 8.4kPa). She was tachycardic (120bpm) and blood pressure was 98/50. Chest x-ray and bloods were unremarkable although her ECG revealed a sinus tachycardia with right axis deviation, Q waves and inverted T waves in lead III.
The patient had a bedside echocardiogram that revealed a severely dilated right ventricle with poor tricuspid annulus planar systolic excursion (TAPSE). A presumed diagnosis of a pulmonary embolism (PE) was made. Thrombolytic therapy was considered but rejected at this point, in view of the haemodynamic stability. The patient was commenced on enoxaparin at a dose of 1.5mg/kg.
CT pulmonary angiography confirmed the presence of bilateral pulmonary emboli. On return from CT the patient was sat up briefly at which time she became cyanotic and had a brief self-terminating seizure. During this time her blood pressure was not recordable, and significant hypotension secondary to obstructive shock was assumed to be the cause. At this point it was decided to proceed with thrombolysis. The patient was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit, made a rapid recovery without the need for vasopressors or intubation and ventilation, and was discharged from hospital a few days later.
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