Background: Although numerous articles have addressed the risk of
pulmonary embolism following total knee and total hip arthroplasty, we were
unable to find comparable information for the risk following elbow
arthroplasty. We therefore sought to determine the prevalence of pulmonary
embolism after total elbow arthroplasty.
Methods: We conducted a retrospective review of the medical records
of consecutive patients who had undergone primary elbow arthroplasty (816
procedures) or revision total elbow arthroplasty (260 procedures) at our
tertiary-care academic medical institution between June 1981 and June 2001.
Our purpose was to identify all patients in whom a pulmonary embolism
developed after the surgery.
Results: Three patients had a pulmonary embolism and one died as a
result of the complication during the twenty-year study period. Because of a
low index of suspicion, the presenting symptoms of the pulmonary embolus were
originally attributed to other causes of respiratory distress in two of the
Conclusions: These findings suggest that pulmonary embolism after
total elbow arthroplasty is a rare but potentially fatal complication.
Surgeons should consider this diagnosis when a patient exhibits respiratory
distress after total elbow arthroplasty.
Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions
to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.