Which of the following is the most appropriate next step in management for this patient‘s condition?
The patient in this scenario has an aortic dissection until proven otherwise. Administering anticoagulation (Choice A: Unfractionated Heparin Drip) would be the correct treatment for a pulmonary embolism. Although the patient has mild tachycardia and tachypnea on the exam, characteristics of the history and exam point closer to a diagnosis of aortic dissection. Features of the history that support a diagnosis of aortic dissection include pain described as “tearing”, “ripping”, or sharp pain radiating to the back. Other characteristics include unequal blood pressures in the extremities or neurological symptoms. Aortic dissections that migrate proximally may cause cardiac tamponade or a STEMI if they involve the coronary arteries. Choice C (Aspirin) would be the treatment for Acute Coronary Syndrome. Choice D (Call a Cardiology consultation) would not be appropriate for a patient with aortic dissection. A cardiothoracic surgical consultation would be appropriate in a patient with an aortic dissection involving the ascending aorta (Type A aortic dissection). Aortic dissections distal to the left subclavian artery that involve the descending aorta (Type B aortic dissection) are typically managed medically with blood pressure control. Choice B (IV Labetalol) is the correct answer as Aortic Dissections require aggressive blood pressure control with a goal of less than 120/80 mmHg. Beta-blockers, like Labetalol, are considered first-line therapy as they provide both alpha and beta-adrenergic receptor blockade. This allows the reduction of blood pressure without a reflex tachycardia response. Esmolol is an alternative therapy. Beta-blockers decrease vessel shearing forces that could worsen intimal vessel tearing. If beta-blockers alone cannot control blood pressure sufficiently, other medications can be included in the treatment regimen, like nicardipine, nitroglycerin, nitroprusside.
Johnson GA, Prince LA. “Chapter 59: Aortic Dissection and Related Aortic Syndromes”. In: Tintinalli JE, Ma O, Yealy DM, Meckler GD, Stapczynski J, Cline DM, Thomas SH. eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 9th ed. McGraw-Hill.