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To investigate the present status of pulmonary embolism as a cause of death in a general hospital patient population, a 5-year retrospective study of all autopsy reports and associated hospital records was undertaken. Pulmonary embolism was thought to be the cause of death in 239 of 2388 autopsies performed (10%): 15% of these patients were aged less than 60 years and 68% did not have cancer. Of these patients, 83% had deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) in the legs at autopsy, of whom only 19% had symptoms of DVT before death. Only 3% of patients who had DVT at autopsy had undergone an investigation for such before death. Twenty-four per cent of patients who died from pulmonary embolism had undergone surgery a mean of 6.9 days before. Screening tests for DVT should be applied widely in the hospital population.