J Intern Med. 2021 Feb 9. doi: 10.1111/joim.13267. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: Radiological and pathological studies in severe COVID-19 pneumonia (SARS-CoV-2) have demonstrated extensive pulmonary immunovascular thrombosis and infarction. This study investigated whether these focal changes may present with chest pain mimicking pulmonary emoblism (PE) in ambulant patients.
METHODS: CTPAs from outpatients presenting with chest pain to Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust 1st March to 31 May 2020 (n = 146) and 2019 (n = 85) were compared. Regions of focal ground glass opacity (GGO), consolidation and/or atelectasis (parenchymal changes) were determined, and all scans were scored using British Society for Thoracic Imaging (BSTI) criteria for COVID-19, and the 2020 cohort was offered SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing.
RESULTS: Baseline demographic and clinical data were similar between groups with absence of fever, normal lymphocytes and marginally elevated CRP and D-Dimer values. Evidence of COVID-19 or parenchymal changes was observed in 32.9% (48/146) of cases in 2020 compared to 16.5% (14/85) in 2019 (P = 0.007). 11/146 (7.5%) patients met BSTI criteria for COVID-19 in 2020 compared with 0/14 in 2019 (P = 0.008). 3/39 patients tested had detectable COVID-19 antibodies (2 with parenchymal changes and 1 with normal parenchyma) however 0/6 patients whose CTPA met BSTI criteria "likely/suspicious for COVID-19" and attended antibody testing were SARS-CoV-2 antibody positive.
CONCLUSIONS: 32.8% ambulatory patients with suspected PE in 2020 had parenchymal changes with 7.5% diagnosed as COVID-19 infection by imaging criteria, despite the absence of other COVID-19 symptoms. These findings suggest that localized COVID-19 pneumonitis with immunothrombosis occurs distal to the bronchiolar arteriolar circulation, causing pleural irritation and chest pain without viraemia, accounting for the lack of fever and systemic symptoms.