Pulmonary embolism deaths, disparities high despite advancements in care

The condition affects around 900,000 Americans each year

5:00 AM

Author | Noah Fromson


Over the last 20 years, treatments for pulmonary embolism advanced greatly.

Several new therapies were developed alongside widespread adoption of emergency response teams for the condition, which is marked by a blockage of the arteries in the lungs often caused by a blood clot.

Despite these innovations, a Michigan Medicine study finds that the death rate for pulmonary embolism remains high and unchanged in recent years – more often killing men, Black patients and those from rural areas.

The results are published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

SEE ALSO: Complications for procedure to open clogged pulmonary arteries decrease significantly

“These findings are surprising and counterintuitive to the advancement in care for patients with pulmonary embolism over the last decade, as well as other studies suggesting a downward trajectory in mortality from other major causes of cardiovascular death,” said lead author Mohamed Zghouzi, M.D., who was a vascular medicine fellow at the University of Michigan Health Frankel Cardiovascular Center at the time the work was done.

Researchers analyzed over 100,000 deaths related to pulmonary embolism between 2006 and 2019 using national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They found that the death rate due to pulmonary embolism did not change significantly from 2.8 deaths per 100,000 people over the course of the decade. However, the mortality rate increased significantly among men, as well Black patients, who were nearly two times more likely to die from the condition compared to white patients.

SEE ALSO: ‘Concerning’ CT scans may cause unnecessary hospitalization for some pulmonary embolism patients

In rural areas, 4 patients per 100,000 died of pulmonary embolism, which is nearly double that of large metropolitan areas.

“Seeing a higher incidence of blood clots, including pulmonary embolism, in Black populations, patients in rural areas and those with lower socioeconomic status suggests that social determinants of health play a role in the incidence and outcomes of venous thromboembolism,” said Geoffrey Barnes, M.D., M.Sc., co-author and associate professor of cardiology-internal medicine at U-M Medical School.

Pulmonary embolism is most often caused by a blood blot in the legs, called deep vein thrombosis, that travels through the body up to the lungs. It affects around 900,000 people in the U.S. each year, with 10-30% of people dying within one month of diagnosis, according to the American Lung Association.

“These findings highlight a need for both increased funding for research focused on the underlying causes of these mortality rates and disparities, as well as targeted interventions and programs aimed at improving outcomes for pulmonary embolism in all patients,” Barnes said.

Additional authors include Hunter Mwansa, M.D., Supriya Shore, M.D., Syed Nabeel Hyder, M.D., Neil Kamdar, Victor M. Moles, M.D., James Froehlich, M.D., Vallerie V. McLaughlin, M.D., Brahmajee Nallamothu, M.D., and Vikas Aggarwal, M.D., all of Michigan Medicine at the time of the work, Timir K. Paul, M.D., Ph.D., of University of Tennessee at Nashville, Kenneth Rosenfield, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital, and Jay Giri, M.D., of University of Pennsylvania.

Funding: GDB – consulting for Abbott Vascular, Boston Scientific. JG has served on advisory boards and received research funds to the institution from Abiomed, Boston  Scientific, Abbott  Vascular,  Inari  Medical. KR: Consultant/Scientific  Advisory Board, Abbott Vascular, Althea Medical,  Angiodynamics, Boston Scientific, Penumbra. Board Member and Founder: National PERT Consortium. All other authors have no relevant relationships to disclose.

Paper cited: “Gender, Racial, and Geographic Disparities in Pulmonary Embolism-related Mortality Nationwide,” Annals of the American Thoracic Society. DOI: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.202302-091O

More Articles About: Lungs and Breathing Vascular Disease Cardiovascular: Diseases & Conditions Emergency & Trauma Care Health Care Delivery, Policy and Economics
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

Explore a variety of healthcare news & stories by visiting the Health Lab home page for more articles.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

[email protected]


Stay Informed

Want top health & research news weekly? Sign up for Health Lab’s newsletters today!

Featured News & Stories emergency room doors
Health Lab
‘Concerning’ CT scans may cause unnecessary hospitalization for some pulmonary embolism patients
Michigan Medicine research finds that some patients with PE, a blood clot in one or more pulmonary arteries, may be hospitalized unnecessarily due to computed tomography, or CT, imaging results rather than clinical risk factors.
doctor checking heart on patient
Health Lab
Leading experts release new guidelines to improve congenital heart surgery care for children
For the first time in more than 20 years, dozens of pediatric cardiologists, surgeons and other health professionals have come together to develop new guidelines intended to improve heart surgery care for this population of children and teens.
woman older with provider
Health Lab
Should older adults, with fewer years to live, keep getting cancer screenings?
Cancer screening guidelines increasingly factor in how long a person has left to live, to guide whether to continue or stop screening. A new poll explores older adults’ attitudes toward this approach.
stork with baby in bag with dollar sign
Health Lab
Childbirth associated with significant medical debt
Postpartum individuals are more likely to have medical debt than those who are pregnant, suggests a Michigan Medicine led study that evaluated collections among a statewide commercially insured cohort of 14,560 pregnant people and 12,157 people in the postpartum period.
watch on hand
Health Lab
Tailored text messages not enough to improve mobility after heart issues
A Michigan Medicine report shows that adding a mobile health application to such devices yields mixed results. Tailored text messages to encourage high-risk people to move more may improve some short-term outcomes but doesn’t always improve physical activity levels for everyone.
man smiling sitting
Health Lab
A unique collaboration helps one patient better manage aortic disease
MI-AORTA is a donor-funded initiative that facilitates collaboration within the Frankel Cardiovascular Center, U-M Health and referring provider networks, creating value for the patients, families, and communities they serve and allows them to continue to pioneer advanced therapies for aortic diseases.