Scintigraphic Diagnosis of Acute Pulmonary Embolism: From Basics to Best Practices

Pierre Yves Le Roux, Romain Le Pennec, Pierre Yves Salaun, Lionel S. Zuckier

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In this article the technique, interpretation, and diagnostic performance of scintigraphy for the diagnosis of acute pulmonary embolism (PE) are reviewed. Lung scintigraphy has stood the test of time as a reliable and validated examination for the determination of PE. Ventilation/perfusion (V/Q) lung scintigraphy assesses the functional consequences of the clot on its downstream vascular bed in conjunction with the underlying ventilatory status of the affected lung region, in contrast to CT pulmonary angiography (CTPA), which visualizes presence of the clot within affected vessels. Most-commonly used ventilation radiopharmaceuticals are Technetium-99m labeled aerosols (such as 99mTechnetium-DTPA), or ultrafine particle suspensions (99mTc-Technegas) which reach the distal lung in proportion to regional distribution of ventilation. Perfusion images are obtained after intravenous administration 99mTc-labeled macro-aggregated albumin particles which lodge in the distal pulmonary capillaries. Both planar and tomographic methods of imaging, each favored in different geographical regions, will be described. Guidelines for interpretation of scintigraphy have been issues by both the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, and by the European Association of Nuclear Medicine. Breast tissue is particularly radiosensitive during pregnancy due to its highly proliferative state and many guidelines recommend use of lung scintigraphy rather than CTPA in this population. Several maneuvers are available in order to further reduce radiation exposure including reducing radiopharmaceutical dosages or omitting ventilation altogether, functionally converting the study to a low-dose screening examination; if perfusion defects are present, further testing is necessary. Several groups have also performed perfusion-only studies during the COVID epidemic in order to reduce risk of respiratory contagion. In patients where perfusion defects are present, further testing is again necessary to avoid false-positive results. Improved availability of personal protective equipment, and reduced risk of serious infection, have rendered this maneuver moot in most practices. First introduced 60 years ago, subsequent advances in radiopharmaceutical development and imaging methods have positioned lung scintigraphy to continue to play an important clinical and research role in the diagnosis of acute PE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSeminars in nuclear medicine
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


Dive into the research topics of 'Scintigraphic Diagnosis of Acute Pulmonary Embolism: From Basics to Best Practices'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this