This patient arrives to the Emergency department after multiple episodes of hematemesis. Her exam shows tachycardia, borderline hypotension, and mild tachypnea. While in the Emergency department the patient decompensates after more hematemesis episodes and develops altered mental status. This patient has an upper GI bleed most likely from a gastroesophageal variceal bleed. Gastro-esophageal (GE) varices are dilated blood vessels at the GE junction that result from portal hypertension. Variceal bleeding can be catastrophic and cause hemorrhagic shock and problems with airway patency as seen in this scenario. The management of GE variceal bleeding, like other GI bleeds, begins with management of the “ABCs” (Airway, Breathing, and Circulation). Unlike in other causes of upper GI bleeds, IV antibiotics and IV octreotide are used in GE variceal bleeds. IV antibiotics have a mortality benefit when used in this setting. Early gastroenterology consultation is another important component of GE variceal bleed management for definitive diagnosis and treatment with variceal banding or ligation. Please see the chart below for further details on general GI bleed causes, signs and symptoms, and ED management.
This patient with a depressed mental status needs to have a definitive airway established to prevent aspiration with bloody vomitus. IV Pantoprazole (Choice B) is used in upper GI bleeds from peptic ulcers but has no role in this acutely ill variceal bleed patient. The airway should be established prior to medications, such as pantoprazole are considered. A cricothyrotomy (Choice D) would establish an airway, but this is an invasive approach to airway management and not the best approach in this patient. A cricothyrotomy involves piercing a needle or scalpel in the anterior neck (cricothyroid membrane) to establish an airway surgically. This procedure is performed in special situations where a patient cannot be intubated through the trachea (i.e., angioedema of the lips and tongue, facial mass, facial trauma) and cannot ventilate independently (i.e., depressed mental status). This patient does not meet the criteria for this invasive procedure. Endotracheal intubation should be attempted first on this patient. A Sengstaken-Blakemore tube (Choice A) is a specialized oro-gastric tube with a gastric and esophageal balloon. Once placed correctly, the balloons on the tube can be inflated to tamponade any bleeding variceal vessels in the distal esophagus or stomach. This tube should be placed only after intubating a patient and is used as a last resort measure prior to endoscopic treatment. The best next step in management of this patient is to perform endotracheal intubation (Choice C) for airway protection. Correct Answer: C
- Carrol M, Mudan G, & Bentley S. Gastrointestinal bleeding. International Emergency Medicine Education Project. https://iem-student.org/gi-bleeding/
- Long B. (2018). EM@3AM: Gastroesophageal varices. emDocs. http://www.emdocs.net/em3am-gastroesophageal-varices/
- Nickson C. (2020). Sengstaken-Blakemore and Minnesota tubes. Life in the Fast Lane. https://litfl.com/sengstaken-blakemore-and-minnesota-tubes/
White K (2017). EM@3AM: GI bleed. emDocs. http://www.emdocs.net/em3am-gi-bleed/