Pulmonary emboli: The differential diagnosis dilemma

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Pulmonary embolism is a rare but serious medical condition, with an estimated mortality of 5% to 20%. Many patients receiving physical therapy may be at risk for developing pulmonary embolism, especially after periods of immobilization or surgery. Patients presenting with dyspnea, chest pain, or tachypnea, particularly after trauma or surgery, have an increased likelihood of pulmonary embolism. Clinical prediction rules have been developed, which can aid the practitioners in assessing the risk a patient has for developing pulmonary embolism. The present clinical commentary discusses the existing evidence for screening patients for pulmonary embolism. To illustrate the importance of the screening examination, a patient is presented who was referred to physical therapy 5 days after cervical discectomy and fusion. This patient was subsequently referred for medical evaluation and a confirmatory diagnosis of pulmonary embolism.

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