Since Scott Weingart first advocated for using push-dose pressors in the Emergency Department (ED) over a decade ago(1), push-dose vasopressors, also known as bolus-dose vasopressors have seemingly found their way into many EDs. However, recent studies have sought to ask more questions regarding its use and safety in the Emergency Department.
Vasopressors such as epinephrine and norepinephrine are commonly used for regulating and maintaining adequate blood pressure or mean arterial pressure (MAP). While these are usually administered as a continuous infusion via central access, administering them as a small bolus through peripheral access came to be known as push-dose vasopressor in practice.
Traditionally, this small bolus strategy was used in the operating room (OR) by anesthetists to treat transient hypotension due to sedating agents or spinal anesthesia. Multiple studies have supported the safety and efficacy of push-dose vasopressors in this clinical setting/patient population (2).
Swensen, et al. (3) studied the safety of bolus-dose phenylephrine for hypotension in the Emergency Department, however, data on the efficacy and safety of push-dose pressors remains sparse in ED and in-patient settings. Studies published in the past few years have questioned the lack of evidence regarding the safety and efficacy of push-dose pressor use in ED settings and highlighted some negative consequences of its use (4). To understand the concerns, it’s important we first understand the vasopressors, indications for use, and preparation in the ED.
Push-dose pressors in the Emergency Department
The two common vasopressors used as push-dose pressors in the Emergency Department are Epinephrine and Phenylephrine. Patients needing emergency airway, traumatic brain injury, and post-cardiac arrest with the return of spontaneous circulation may all experience hypotension which could lead to adverse outcomes. Push-does pressors have been proposed as a temporary measure to limit the hypotension while a vasopressor infusion/definitive treatment is being set up (5).
Clinical settings in the ED where the use of push-dose pressor is proposed:
- Airway management: Hypotension prior, during, and post-intubation could be treated with bolus-dose vasopressors. Panchal et al. (6) did a retrospective chart review of intubated hypotensive patients in which phenylephrine was used. Bolus-dose phenylephrine demonstrated an increase in systolic blood pressure and the authors recommended further studies to understand the best use of phenylephrine for post-intubation hypotension.
- Return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC): In patients with ROSC, bolus-dose pressors may aid in the maintenance of end-organ perfusion, which is often impaired after ROSC (7).
- Traumatic brain injury: By rapidly increasing mean arterial pressure and thus cerebral perfusion pressure, bolus-dose vasopressors may help to prevent secondary brain injury.
What are the concerns regarding the use of push-dose pressors in the ED?
Acquisto and Bodkin (8) cited a few dosing errors while using push-dose pressors and highlighted that emergency physicians are less familiar with the practice of medication preparation/manipulation and hence dosing errors are expected, inadvertently causing patients more harm than benefit. They also emphasized on the lack of evidence in the literature regarding the efficacy and safety of push-dose pressors in a stressful environment like the ED.
Rotando and Picard et al. (9) in their prospective observational study of 146 patients receiving push-dose pressors in the ICU had thirteen (11.2%) patients have a dose-related medication error and seventeen (11.6%) adverse events. They concluded while push-dose pressors where efficacious, they were associated with adverse drug events and medication errors.
Cole et al (10). performed a retrospective analysis of 249 patients receiving push-dose pressors and found a higher incidence of adverse hemodynamic effects (39%) and human errors (19%). They emphasized the need for further studies to question whether push-dose pressors improve outcomes, and if so, how to safely implement them in practice.
Another concern raised is whether physicians may bypass standard resuscitation practices of fluid boluses in favor of using push-dose pressors. Schwartz et al. (11) found that only 34% of patients received an appropriate fluid challenge before using push-dose pressors in a retrospective chart review of 73 patients receiving push-dose pressors for acute hypotension in the ED. Furthermore, it appeared that patients who did not receive an appropriate fluid bolus needed more doses of bolus-dose pressors followed by the need for continuous vasopressor infusion within 30 minutes of bolus-dose pressor use.
Emergency physicians work in stressful environments which raises concerns on the ability of the physician to perform accurate dose calculations under duress (4). The prepared syringe also contains multiple individual doses, and using more concentrated solutions potentially increases the risk of overdose and extravasation injury (12).
While the practice of using push-dose pressors has found its way into the Emergency Department, it is crucial to acknowledge that evidence regarding its safety and benefits is limited. However, rather than disregarding the practice, high-quality research should be encouraged, which could potentially be practice-changing. Holden et al. (12) offer a framework of operational and safety considerations for the use of push-dose pressors in the ED and is a must-read for all using push-dose pressors in their current practice.
- Scott Weingart. EMCrit Podcast 6 – Push-Dose Pressors. EMCrit Blog. Published on July 10, 2009. Accessed on September 25th 2020. Available at [https://emcrit.org/emcrit/bolus-dose-pressors/ ].
- Lee A, Ngan Kee WD, Gin T. A quantitative, systematic review of randomized controlled trials of ephedrine versus phenylephrine for the management of hypotension during spinal anesthesia for cesarean delivery. Anesth Analg. 2002 Apr;94(4):920-6, table of contents. doi: 10.1097/00000539-200204000-00028. PMID: 11916798.
- Swenson K, Rankin S, Daconti L, Villarreal T, Langsjoen J, Braude D. Safety of bolus-dose phenylephrine for hypotensive emergency department patients. Am J Emerg Med. 2018 Oct;36(10):1802-1806. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2018.01.095. Epub 2018 Feb 19. PMID: 29472039.
- Cole JB. Bolus-Dose Vasopressors in the Emergency Department: First, Do No Harm; Second, More Evidence Is Needed. Ann Emerg Med. 2018 Jan;71(1):93-95. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2017.05.039. Epub 2017 Jul 26. PMID: 28754354.
- Weingart S. Push-dose pressors for immediate blood pressure control. Clin Exp Emerg Med. 2015;2(2):131-132. Published 2015 Jun 30. doi:10.15441/ceem.15.010
- Panchal AR, Satyanarayan A, Bahadir JD, Hays D, Mosier J. Efficacy of Bolus-dose Phenylephrine for Peri-intubation Hypotension. J Emerg Med. 2015 Oct;49(4):488-94. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2015.04.033. Epub 2015 Jun 20. PMID: 26104846.
- Gottlieb M. Bolus dose of epinephrine for refractory post-arrest hypotension. CJEM. 2018 Oct;20(S2):S9-S13. doi: 10.1017/cem.2016.409. Epub 2017 Jan 10. PMID: 28069098.
- Acquisto NM, Bodkin RP, Johnstone C. Medication errors with push dose pressors in the emergency department and intensive care units. Am J Emerg Med. 2017 Dec;35(12):1964-1965. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2017.06.013. Epub 2017 Jun 7. PMID: 28625533.
- Rotando A, Picard L, Delibert S, Chase K, Jones CMC, Acquisto NM. Push dose pressors: Experience in critically ill patients outside of the operating room. Am J Emerg Med. 2019 Mar;37(3):494-498. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2018.12.001. Epub 2018 Dec 3. PMID: 30553634.
- Cole JB, Knack SK, Karl ER, Horton GB, Satpathy R, Driver BE. Human Errors and Adverse Hemodynamic Events Related to “Push Dose Pressors” in the Emergency Department. J Med Toxicol. 2019 Oct;15(4):276-286. doi: 10.1007/s13181-019-00716-z. Epub 2019 Jul 3. PMID: 31270748; PMCID: PMC6825064.
- Schwartz MB, Ferreira JA, Aaronson PM. The impact of push-dose phenylephrine use on subsequent preload expansion in the ED setting. Am J Emerg Med. 2016 Dec;34(12):2419-2422. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2016.09.041. Epub 2016 Sep 22. PMID: 27720568.
- Holden D, Ramich J, Timm E, Pauze D, Lesar T. Safety Considerations and Guideline-Based Safe Use Recommendations for “Bolus-Dose” Vasopressors in the Emergency Department. Ann Emerg Med. 2018 Jan;71(1):83-92. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2017.04.021. PMID: 28601272.