The incidence of pulmonary embolism and the number of clinically missed diagnoses of it in necropsies carried out between 1960 and 1984 at this department were investigated. Pulmonary embolism primarily affects elderly people with serious underlying disease; in this study it was found more often in women. The incidence of pulmonary embolism (9% of all necropsies) was unchanged during the period studied. In contrast, pulmonary embolism as the "sole" cause of death increased (p less than 0.0005). Although most pulmonary emboli were the immediate cause of death, the clinical diagnosis was often missed (in 84% of all cases). Furthermore, such clinically missed diagnoses increased over the years (p less than 0.005), especially in patients with heart disease and cancer. Without necropsy there will be considerable underdiagnosis of pulmonary embolism, therefore providing a misleading figure in the death statistics for this often fatal disease.
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