•The evidence on the diagnostic management of upper extremity deep vein thrombosis is scarce.•Only one study evaluated the use of a diagnostic algorithm, similar to the one used for deep vein thrombosis of the lower extremities.•Further studies are needed to validate the algorithm, especially in high-risk subgroups.
Upper extremity deep vein thrombosis (UEDVT) accounts for 4% to 10% of all cases of deep vein thrombosis. UEDVT may present with localized pain, erythema, and swelling of the arm, but may also be detected incidentally by diagnostic imaging tests performed for other reasons. Prompt and accurate diagnosis is crucial to prevent pulmonary embolism and long-term complications as the post-thrombotic syndrome of the arm. Unlike the diagnostic management of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) of the lower extremities, which is well established, the work-up of patients with clinically suspected UEDVT remains uncertain with limited evidence from studies of small size and poor methodological quality. Currently, only one prospective study evaluated the use of an algorithm, similar to the one used for DVT of the lower extremities, for the diagnostic workup of clinically suspected UEDVT. The algorithm combined clinical probability assessment, D-dimer testing and ultrasonography and appeared to safely and effectively exclude UEDVT. However, before recommending its use in routine clinical practice, external validation of this strategy and improvements of the efficiency are needed, especially in high-risk subgroups in whom the performance of the algorithm appeared to be suboptimal, such as hospitalized or cancer patients.
In this review, we critically assess the accuracy and efficacy of current diagnostic tools and provide clinical guidance for the diagnostic management of clinically suspected UEDVT.