Practical utility of the D-dimer assay for excluding thromboembolism in severely injured trauma patients

John T Owings, R. C. Gosselin, John T Anderson, F. D. Battistella, M. Bagley, E. C. Larkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Background: We have advocated the use of a D-dimer assay to exclude the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism (PE) and deep venous thrombosis (DVT) in surgical and trauma patients suspected of having these diagnoses. Injury is known to increase D-dimer levels independent of thromboembolism. The purpose of this study was to assess the period after injury over which the D-dimer assay remains positive because of injury exclusive of thromboembolism. Methods: We prospectively sampled the plasma of severely injured patients for D-dimer using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay method at admission; at hours 8, 16, 24, and 48; and at days 3, 4, 5, and 6. Patients were then screened for DVT with a routine duplex Doppler at day 7. Patients were followed for PE, adult respiratory distress syndrome, and disseminated intravascular coagulation. Results. One hundred fifty-four patients (mean Injury Severity Score of 23) underwent a total of 1,230 D-dimer assays. Twenty-six (17%) had thromboembolism. Nine (6%) patients developed DVT, 2 (1%) developed PE, 13 (8%) developed disseminated intravascular coagulation, and 11 (7%) developed severe adult respiratory distress syndrome. None of the trauma patients with thromboembolism had a (false) negative D-dimer at or after the time of their thromboembolic complication. True-negative D-dimer results as a function of time from injury are: 0 hours, 18%; 8 hours, 16%; 16 hours, 17%; 24 hours, 22%; 48 hours, 37%; day 3, 34%; day 4, 32%; day 5, 30%; and day 6, 30%. The negative predictive value of the assay was 100%. D-dimer levels were significantly higher in those who developed a thromboembolic complication than in those who did not (independent of Injury severity Score). Conclusion: These data serve to validate D-dimer as a means of excluding thromboembolism, specifically in patients with severe injury (100% negative predictive value). Before 48 hours after injury, however, the vast majority of these patients without thromboembolism had positive D-dimer assays. Because of the high false-positive rate early after severe injury, the D-dimer assay may be of little value before postinjury hour 48.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)425-430
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Trauma - Injury, Infection and Critical Care
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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