septic pulmonary emboli

Septic pulmonary emboli refer to the embolization of infectious particles (intravascular thrombus containing microorganisms) into the lungs via the pulmonary arterial system.

Clinical presentation

Symptoms can be not specific but most manifest as a bacteremia with, dyspnea, chest pain, cough and other respiratory symptoms. Often concurrent symptoms of the extrapulmonary primary infective focus are also present.


Septic emboli can originate from different sources :

Common pathogens are
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Escherichia coli
  • Salmonella group B

Radiographic features

The clinical context is significant in image interpretation and differential considerations. Most patients will be clinically septic and have positive blood cultures at the time of imaging assessment.

Plain radiograph

Chest x-ray features are nonspecific but may show :

  • peripheral, lower lobe predominant infiltrative densities: can be unilateral or bilateral
  • diffuse bilateral nodular densities (often poorly marginated) in varying stages of cavitation
    • these nodules generally range between 1-3 cm
    • the nodules vary greatly in size, which is a reflection of repeated episodes of embolic shower
    • may increase in number or change in appearance (size or degree of cavitation) on subsequent short-term follow up radiographs
  • accompanying small pleural effusions can be common
  • features suggestive of complicating pleura empyemas may be seen

Bilateral abnormalities may be present in as much as 80% of cases .

  • feeding vessel sign : peripheral nodules with clearly identifiable feeding vessels associated with lung abscesses 
  • subpleural nodular lesions or wedge-shaped densities with or without necrosis caused by septic infarcts (these can manifest as cavitary pulmonary infarcts)
    • these may have a dependent, lower zone predication
    • the wedge-shaped lesions usually range between 10-20 mm
    • peripheral nodular densities usually range between 5-35 mm

Treatment and prognosis


Recognized complications include:

Differential diagnosis

For small and/or different size cavitary lung lesions on HRCT or CT chest, consider:

See also

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