PLoS One. 2020 Nov 19;15(11):e0242475. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0242475. eCollection 2020.
BACKGROUND: COVID-19 is frequently complicated by venous thromboembolism (VTE). Computed tomography (CT) of the chest-primarily usually conducted as low-dose, non-contrast enhanced CT-plays an important role in the diagnosis and follow-up of COVID-19 pneumonia. Performed as contrast-enhanced CT pulmonary angiography, it can reliably detect or rule-out pulmonary embolism (PE). Several imaging characteristics of COVID-19 pneumonia have been described for chest CT, but no study evaluated CT findings in the context of VTE/PE.
PURPOSE: In our retrospective study, we analyzed clinical, laboratory and CT imaging characteristics of 50 consecutive patients with RT-PCR proven COVID-19 pneumonia who underwent contrast-enhanced chest CT at two tertiary care medical centers.
MATERIAL AND METHODS: All patients with RT-PCR proven COVID-19 pneumonia and contrast-enhanced chest CT performed at two tertiary care hospitals between March 1st and April 20th 2020 were retrospectively identified. Patient characteristics (age, gender, comorbidities), symptoms, date of symptom onset, RT-PCR results, imaging results of CT and leg ultrasound, laboratory findings (C-reactive protein, differential blood count, troponine, N-terminal pro-B-type natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP), fibrinogen, interleukin-6, D-dimer, lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), creatine kinase (CK), creatine kinase muscle-brain (CKmb) and lactate,) and patient outcome (positive: discharge or treatment on normal ward; negative: treatment on intensive care unit (ICU), need for mechanical ventilation, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), or death) were analyzed. Follow-up was performed until May 10th. Patients were assigned to two groups according to two endpoints: venous thromboembolism (VTE) or no VTE. For statistical analysis, univariate logistic regression models were calculated.
RESULTS: This study includes 50 patients. In 14 out of 50 patients (28%), pulmonary embolism was detected at contrast-enhanced chest CT. The majority of PE was detected on CTs performed on day 11-20 after symptom onset. Two patients (14%) with PE simultaneously had evidence of deep vein thrombosis. 15 patients (30%) had a negative outcome (need for intensive care, mechanical ventilation, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or death), and 35 patients (70%) had a positive outcome (transfer to regular ward, or discharge). Patients suffering VTE had a statistically significant higher risk of an unfavorable outcome (p = 0.028). In univariate analysis, two imaging characteristics on chest CT were associated with VTE: crazy paving pattern (p = 0.024) and air bronchogram (n = 0.021). Also, elevated levels of NT-pro BNP (p = 0.043), CK (p = 0.023) and D-dimers (p = 0.035) were significantly correlated with VTE.
CONCLUSION: COVID-19 pneumonia is frequently complicated by pulmonary embolism (incidence of 28% in our cohort), remarkably with lacking evidence of deep vein thrombosis in nearly all thus affected patients of our cohort. As patients suffering VTE had an adverse outcome, we call for a high level of alertness for PE and advocate a lower threshold for contrast-enhanced CT in COVID-19 pneumonia. According to our observations, this might be particularly justified in the second week of disease and if a crazy paving pattern and / or air bronchogram is present on previous non-enhanced CT.