Purple Rain: A Rare Spot Diagnosis

Purple rain urine

Case Presentation

A 70-year-old pleasant elderly male was brought in by his son, surprisingly complaining of purple-colored urine. The son got worried once he saw the purple urine bag and rushed his dad to the Emergency Department.

Upon further questioning, he reports a sweet elderly gentleman, known with previous cerebrovascular accidents, dysphasia and neurogenic bladder, that he has a urinary catheter inserted for. He claims that his dad has been having low appetite and passing less stool in the past week. Otherwise, he didn’t notice any other alarming symptoms. Furthermore, he denied noticing any fever, vomiting, behavioral changes indicating any pain, or recent change in his medications or diet. He had no known allergies as well. Upon full review of symptoms, chronic constipation was appreciated, otherwise, it was unremarkable.

Physical Exam

The patient was lying in bed, a bit uncomfortable, with an attached urinary catheter bag. He was afebrile and vitally stable. Proceeding with a focused physical examination, his chest was clear, and abdomen was soft, lax and nontender, furthermore, his skin had no rashes, and limbs were non-edematous. Inspecting the Urine Catheter Collection Bag, it did reveal Purple Urine Sediment.

Purple Urine in the Urinary Catheter Bag
Purple Urine in the Urinary Catheter Bag

Differential Diagnosis and Workup

Thinking of differential diagnoses of discolored urine, a purple urine bag is almost a spot diagnosis in our practice, definitely after ruling out any possible confounders if any.

We reassured the family and explained to them that we would order some blood and urine tests to confirm the diagnosis and start the appropriate treatment plan.

Case Management and Disposition

Laboratory test revealed mild leukocytosis with neutrophilia and mild elevated CRP. Otherwise, his urea, creatinine, liver function tests and electrolytes were reported normal.

Furthermore, a urine dipstick was done in the ED that reported positive for leukocytes, nitrites, and consequently sent to the lab for culture and full analysis which confirmed the diagnosis of a urinary tract infection (UTI).

We informed the son of the workup results, and a diagnosis of a UTI, given his leukocytosis, positive urine dipstick and the presence of a urinary catheter putting him at risk UTI. We reassured him about the urine color and explained the need to start antibiotics to cover the UTI, and changes the urinary catheter, which left us to explain only why was the urine purple unlike usual cases of UTI’s.

Critical Thinking and Take-home Tips

What is PUBS?

  • PUBS stands for Purple Urinary Bag Syndrome, first described in 1978.(1)
  • It is characterized by purple-colored urine collecting in urinary catheterization bags in patients known to prolonged urinary catheters. 
  • It presents asymptomatically and it is associated with urinary tract infections.
  • PUBS presents alarmingly to patients and family members, yet it is a benign phenomenon.

What causes the purplish discoloration of the urine in PUBS?

  • PUBS is associated with alkaline urine with a high bacterial load. 
  • It results due to UTI with certain bacteria producing sulphatases and phosphatases, which lead tryptophan metabolism to produce indigo (blue) and indirubin (red) pigments, a mixture of which becomes purple. (2)
  • Several bacterial species have been reported in association with PUBS including Providencia stuartii, Providencia rettgeri, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Proteus species, Escherichia coli, Enterococcus species, Morganella morganii, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. (3)

What are the PUBS risk factors?

  • Female gender
  • Bedridden status or immobility
  • Chronic constipation leading to bacterial overgrowth
  • Renal disease
  • Prolonged urinary catheterization

What is PUBS management?

  • The reassurance of patient and family
  • Regular changing of urinary catheter
  • UTI Antibiotics coverage

What other urine colors should we be aware of?

  • Urine discoloration if a fairly common sign and indicates a certain pathology often that would need your attention as a physician.
  • Most urine discoloration is caused by food intakes, medications, dyes, or specific disease pathologies.
  • Red-colored urine is often related to hematuria, caused by multiple pathologies, including kidney stones, urinary tract injury or infection or cancer, amongst others.
  • Pink colored urine is often related to certain medications or dietary intake, i.e. beetroots and berries.
  • Brown or tea-colored urine indicates hepatobiliary disease or obstruction.
  • Green Urine can result due to medications such as Propofol.

What should I do when I encounter a discolored urine finding in my patient?

  • Remember always to have a systematic approach. 
  • Take a full history, including types or changes in medications history, diet changes, past medical history, and a full review of systems.
  • Keep in mind, some patients who are bedridden or elderly, communication and history taking might be limited; hence you will have to do your due diligence in gathering all the information you can get from family members, or available medical charts.
  • Your physical exam is a great asset as well in collecting information that can help you 

References and Further Reading

  1. Khan F, Chaudhry MA, Qureshi N, Cowley B. Purple urine bag syndrome: An Alarming Hue? A Brief Review of the Literature. Int J Nephrol 2011. 2011 419213. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  2. Kalsi DS, Ward J, Lee R, Handa A. Purple Urine Bag Syndrome: A Rare Spot Diagnosis. Dis Markers. 2017;2017:9131872. doi:10.1155/2017/9131872
  3. Dilraj S. Kalsi, Joel Ward, Regent Lee, and Ashok Handa, “Purple Urine Bag Syndrome: A Rare Spot Diagnosis,” Disease Markers, vol. 2017, Article ID 9131872, 6 pages, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/9131872.
  4. Al Montasir A, Al Mustaque A. Purple urine bag syndrome. J Family Med Prim Care. 2013;2(1):104–105. doi:10.4103/2249-4863.109970
  5. Traynor B P, Pomeroy E, Niall D. Purple urine bag syndrome: a case report and review of the literature. Oxford Medical Case Reports, Volume 2017, Issue 11, November 2017, omx059, https://doi.org/10.1093/omcr/omx059
  6. Lin CH, Huang HT, Chien CC, Tzeng DS, Lung FW. Purple urine bag syndrome in nursing homes: Ten elderly case reports and a literature review. Clin Interv Aging. 2008;3:729–34. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

iEM in MEMC19 – Dubrovnik, Croatia

iEM in MEMC19

iEM team is attending the Mediterranean Emergency Medicine Congress 2019 in Dubrovnik Croatia. The Xth Mediterranean Emergency Medicine Congress will be held 22-25 September 2019 at the Sun Gardens Hotel. Pre-congress courses will be held on 22 September with the first full day of Congress programming beginning 23 September and running until 25 September.

In addition to attending scientific sessions, iEM team will also be interviewing with Judith Tintinalli and Melanie Stander. Interviews will be shared from iem-student.org platform.

Melanie Stander
Melanie Stander
Judith Tintinalli
Judith Tintinalli


The American Academy of Emergency Medicine (AAEM)  and the Mediterranean Academy of Emergency Medicine (MAEM) are two main organizers of the 2019 congress.

Pre-Congress Courses (September 22, 2019)

Scientific Program

The scientific program will be run at 6-7 different rooms with a variety of topics presented by emergency physicians joining from different countries.

lisa moreno walton

Lisa Moreno, MD MS MSCR FAAEM, AAEM President-Elect and MEMC19 Executive Chair, invites you to join us in Dubrovnik


The American Academy of Emergency Medicine designates this live activity for a maximum of 32.25 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™.  

Mozambique Emergency Medicine Is On The Rise

Mozambique Emergency Medicine Is On The Rise

Africa is a magical continent. It is filled with unique cultural energy. I promise you will never regret diving into this experience. Whether in a park celebrating a wedding, or simply celebrating life at a night club. Africans are master of this, the magic spreads through the air, and you can feel it.

Image by Idílio Chirindja from Pixabay

I had an incredible opportunity to experience Mozambique. In the middle of many English speaking countries, an island speaking Portuguese language.

The country is in the southeast of Africa. The capital is Maputo, which was invaded by Portugal in 1505 that established dominion until 1975 when Mozambique gained its independence. But after that, the country lived years of intense civil war until 1992. Since then Mozambique has lived in a period of relative political stability.

The official language of Mozambique is Portuguese but is spoken mainly as a second language about half of the population. Among the most common native languages are Macua, Tsonga and Seine. The population of about 29 million people is predominantly made up of Bantu peoples.

My story meeting Mozambique

Every time you have doubts about the work is done on the Internet, which many may think irrelevant, I want to say to you that I owe my medical career as an Emergency Physician to #FOAMed. Emergency Medicine was recognized as a specialty in Brazil only in 2015, after many years of struggle. So, we didn’t have much information about this specialty which is still unknown to many students who are currently choosing the specialty, as it was with me. But the fact that someone writes something down and makes it accessible on the internet can really change lives. What led me to understand who I was and what I wanted to do in medicine was this text by Joe Lex. I found my people. My tribe. I understood who I was and fell in love with Emergency Medicine.

After knowing so many amazing FOAMed blogs (emdoc, emcrit, rebelem, etc.), I was so inspired and wanted to do for emergency medicine in my country. I want to create a FOAMed content so that people like me could discover our specialty earlier. And it has to be in Portuguese.

English is important, but nothing so comforting than reading content in your own language. You can think and retain the new knowledge faster, and you can translate the knowledge better to the patient. Understanding is clearer, more accessible, and also brings a sense of belonging and appreciation.

So when I met Abigail Hankin-Wei, we were committed to producing emergency medicine content in Portuguese for the sake of our emergency medicine training programs. Abigail is an inspiring person, who is an emergency physician from the US working in Mozambique full-time to help build the country’s first emergency medicine training program. The residency program is the first one in the country established in 2016, with six young and passionate residents. So I went there to make our bond stronger.

The thing I love most in our specialty is the tribe feeling — the way we immediately recognize the passion in each other. So when you talk about medicine, you know, you understand, you feel belonging to a place, you know that you aren’t the only one crazy doctor that likes to take care of very sick patients. In my routine daily life, it is difficult to encounter this kind of bound.

So, coming to Mozambique and meeting these residents (Brito Gulela, Dino M. Lopes, Euridxe Barbosa, Maria Augusta Taimo, Hermenegildo de Jesus da Silva Macauze and Ezio Massinga) and two more physicians from US (Patrick Connel and Rodolfo Loureiro) were the same exactly how I felt. I was among friends, equals, and I felt like I was at home.

The Story

In Mozambique, we worked at the Mavalane Hospital. I assumed that it is a secondary level hospital, but with a real lack of support. The patients were respiratory failure, abdominal pain, fever, malaria, tuberculosis, lots of complications of HIV, acute stroke, high hypertensive emergencies, etc. They could only provide oxygen (with limitation), and some basic medications.

In the first week, the x-ray machine was broken, but the show must go on, and they did the best they could, treated the most likely disease in their environment with little room for a thorough investigation. They placed the sickest patients in a separate room, the only room in the department where they could get oxygen therapy, which came in two large cylinders. They transferred the most severe patients (which had to be very sick) with potential for recovery to the Central Hospital. As Patrick used to say, the work of the Emergency Physician is to separate the sheep from the goats, so they have to learn as best as they can.

One brilliant thing was the use of POCUS, which is a great value in this context, and I was able to learn a lot from them as I still developing my skills. In need of a CT imaging, the patient has to be referred to the Central Hospital (level one, but still with many limitations). It has to be really thought through because there are limited spots daily. Some conditions could be done, some conditions not. It should change treatment and outcome in a patient with possible good prognosis.

Sometimes the days were really harder, especially when you achieved a certain level of treatment, and you did not have more options to use. They couldn’t do fancy things like NIMV or intubation, or continuous infusion of drugs. They do what they could with their best, and we wait and hope.

The human body is amazing, they are particularly strong here, and one thing I brought with me from this experience is that some patients really get better despite our limitations.

Of course, it would be a lot better to help all patients get better faster and safer. But really, our job is not the most important part. The body is the king. We need to recognize this as quickly as possible in our careers and understand how much we should hasten an improvement and how much we should just wait from the body, without feeling resentful of ourselves when the body achieve its’ limitations, because, in fact, we (as doctors) don’t have that much power as sometimes we think we have.

The environment is harsh. The team has to be practical. Patients give themselves to care, and the team does what they need to do with what they have. Sometimes it was hard to see that cold reality. But again, I could testify how education and love can save the world! In one week, I could see the work of the residents changing everything, turning everything better, lighter, humanized with meaning. They educate the team; they treat the patients with passion and respect; the team wants to be like them: education is the power.

You have to celebrate each small victory

From time to time you should remember and appreciate people for the little good things they do, even if seems small in a big context. So, they don’t forget the small victories, that is what gave us fuel to keep going.

When I was about to leave, we set and talk about their expectations. I could not be more inspired by their clear awareness. They know the hard work that is ahead. But they have dreams about a more organized emergency health care system. They have a passion (inherent in the emergency physician). They have a good heart, strong determinations, vision, and they are smart.

They truly have the magic!


They know there’s still a lot of uncertainty, will the specialty be recognized someday? Will be a place to work? Will the residency grow? Will they have a spot in the most important hospital? They don’t know yet. But they are studying, traveling, receiving people of around the world with humbleness, willing to learn, to improve, to be able to do the most exciting things for their patient and their country. 

I would like to remind that planting an unprecedented program in such an arid place is work for many people. And this team needs recognition, so my special thanks to Dr. Kevin Lunney, who creates PLeDGE Health ONG, that is helping support the residency program.

Special thanks to Sarah Mondlane to her work at PLeDGE Health, and for being the sweetest, kindest hostess in the world. Her love for this cause is pure inspiration.
And thank Dra Otilia Neves, member of the Ministry of Health, and coordinator of the program, who kindness accepted us in Mozambique.

I hope that the work of this team resonates forever in Mozambique.

Vertigo in the ED

Vertigo in ED
Cite this article as: Kaushila Thilakasiri, "Vertigo in the ED," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 11, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/09/11/survival-guide-vertigo-in-ed/, date accessed: September 22, 2019

Check this out!

Amazing clinical videos related to vertigo, dizziness – https://www.youtube.com/user/peterjohns84/videos

Further Reading/Listening

Febrile Seizures

febrile seizures

A 20 Month-Old Male

It is a busy Wednesday afternoon in your pediatric emergency department. You work at a tertiary center, so you are used to receiving transfers from other hospitals for further evaluation and management. You see a new patient on the board. It is a 20 month-old male who came in as a hospital transfer for evaluation of first-time seizure. You go to bedside to start your evaluation. Parents tell you that he had three episodes of seizures in the past 6 hours. All of them lasted for less than 15 minutes, did not require medication for cessation, one of them was described as partial-focal and two were described as generalized tonic-clonic seizures, and the patient had complete return to baseline behavior a few minutes after each episode. Mom says that the patient had his axillary temperature taken by her at home and by the staff at the outside hospital and he had no fever on these measurements. However, she did notice some runny nose in the past 24 hours. As soon as the mom tells you that information, the nurse looks at you and says that the patient’s rectal temperature is 40.1 C.

Febrile Seizures

The first-step in the management of febrile seizures is to understand its definitions. Following that, we need to appropriately classify the patient’s presentation within one of the two types of febrile seizure.


  • Age greater than six-months-old and lower than five-years-old
  • Seizure in a patient with a temperature higher than 38 C
  • No inflammation or infection of the central nervous system
  • No metabolic abnormality that may cause seizures
  • No history of afebrile seizures

Two Types of Febrile Seizures

Class Age Number of seizures in 24h Duration Type of seizure Resolution Return to baseline
6 mo to 5 yo
< 15 min
No focal features
No meds required
6 mo to 5 yo
> 1
> 15 min
Focal features
Med required
No return to baseline in a reasonable time

You must note that you will be able to easily identify those patients who fit the criteria for simple febrile seizures and those who fit the criteria for complex febrile seizures. However, there will be a group of patients that fill one or two criteria for complex febrile seizure, but are extremely well-appearing. We will talk more about that later on during the discussion.


Simple Febrile Seizures

The evaluation of a child with a simple febrile seizure should focus on the underlying febrile illness. In the vast majority of the cases the cause for the fever will be a viral infection that does not require further evaluation and treatment other than some acetaminophen (paracetamol), ibuprofen, and oral hydration.

However, as part of your job, you need to think outside of the box and have a broad differential diagnosis for your patient’s presentation. Make sure to rule out signs of CNS infection (altered mental status, nuchal rigidity, petechial rashes, and prolonged, focal or multiple seizures); risk factors, symptoms, and signs of systemic conditions that could be causing a seizure; and, history of afebrile seizures. Special factors that increase the risk for CNS infections and that you should consider in your evaluation are age 6 -12 months with incomplete immunization status (Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) or Streptococcus pneumoniae) and pre-treatment with antibiotics for another disorder (which could mask meningitis).

Complex Febrile Seizure in Ill-Appearing Child

The workup in this situation is simple. The patient has meningitis until proven otherwise. You should consider starting antibiotics immediately and obtaining a full sepsis workup including complete blood cell count, urinalysis, urine culture, blood cultures, chest x-ray, and lumbar puncture for cerebrospinal fluid analysis. In addition to the infectious work-up, the differential also includes epileptic seizures, toxic ingestion, metabolic disorders, head trauma, and intracranial hypertension.

Complex Febrile Seizure in Well-Appearing Child

Now we reached the tricky part of the discussion. There are no consensus guidelines for the workup of patients with complex febrile seizures in the well-appearing child. As stated in the simple febrile seizure section, you should consider further workup if any concerns for CNS infection, systemic conditions causing seizures, or history of afebrile seizures. You should decide which workup to perform on a case by case basis. In a perfect scenario, these cases should be evaluated in conjunction with specialist consultation (e.g. with pediatric neurology) for guidance with work-up and treatment.

Case Resolution

After you finish your assessment, you make the diagnosis of complex febrile seizure because the patient had multiple seizures in less than 24 hours and had one episode with focal features. The patient is well-appearing, is fully vaccinated, has not used antibiotics recently, returns to baseline completely soon after an episode, and has no findings concerning for CNS infection on his exam. Therefore, you think that a CNS infection is less likely. Since you are facing a case of complex febrile seizure in a well-appearing child, you consult pediatric neurology for guidance with the workup and treatment. They agree with the low likelihood of CNS infection and recommend symptomatic treatment for the patient’s likely upper respiratory infection with observation during six hours in the ED. The patient has no problems during the period of observation. You re-discuss the case with pediatric neurology and they recommend discharge home with close follow-up on their clinic for further workup of other causes of seizure. A couple days later, you check the patient’s records and find that he had a spot EEG done, which was negative for epileptiform waves, and a brain MRI performed, which was unremarkable. Patient was diagnosed with complex febrile seizure and recommended to keep follow-up with his primary care physician with no need for further follow-up with pediatric neurology.

Take-Home Points

  • Always obtain a temperature from a core source, in the ED the most feasible source is a rectal temperature
  • The differential diagnosis for febrile seizures includes CNS infections, epileptic seizures, toxic ingestion, metabolic disorders, head trauma, and intracranial hypertension
  • There is no consensus about the workup and treatment of the well-appearing patient with a complex febrile seizure

References and Further Reading

  1. Festekjian A. Seizures and Status Epilepticus in Children. In: Cydulka RK, Fitch MT, Joing SA, Wang VJ, Cline DM, Ma O. eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine Manual, 8e New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; . http://accessemergencymedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=2158§ionid=162271372. Accessed May 12, 2019.

  2. https://www.emrap.org/episode/kiddos/febrileseizures

  3. https://www.emrap.org/episode/c3seizuresin/seizuresin 

  4. John J Millichap. Clinical features and evaluation of febrile seizures. Mar 25, 2019. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-features-and-evaluation-of-febrile-seizures?source=history_widget

Cite this article as: Henrique Puls, "Febrile Seizures," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 9, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/09/09/febrile-seizures/, date accessed: September 22, 2019

A Road not Taken: Patient Transport in the Rural

Patient transport in rural

Robert Frost’s left out road is much like the one, patients at Beltar PHC opt not to take. The reasons differ in some meaningful way. A child referred for evaluation and further management of sepsis after primary management is taken back home. The result is a misfortune, we usually blame to 49.2 kilometers of the road not taken the distance between Beltar PHC and a tertiary care hospital at Dharan. A severely anemic patient who clearly requires evaluations far more advanced than Beltar could offer was referred to a tertiary care. A day later, news of her demise at home ignited a discussion that has been going on since the establishment of the PHC itself. My intentions today are to discuss the possible reasons transport in rural areas is such an over looming problem. Some reasons are generic, while others are more specific to Beltar.

I vividly remember a case I suspected of stroke and decided to refer to a higher center. There are myriad of decisions and hurdles to work around in order to make the referral smooth. I remember being worried about my patients back in internship about not getting the 30 minutes earlier slots for CT scan. That compared to sending my patients to a different city for the scan seems like a funny worry. Even when you convince a patient that a referral is necessary, which is in itself a rigorous and overwhelming process for both the health practitioner and the patient party, there arises many hurdles to the process. Convincing a patient that half of his monthly income is worth the ambulance ride to a city with CT scan facility that will cost him his other half of the salary can never be an easy process. That combined with the possibility that the CT will come out to be normal is paradoxically a nightmare. Hurdles start to emerge from the least expected places. Spinal board to transfer patient to the ambulance, a simple start to make sure the patient does not move when the ambulance speeds on a bumpy road, oxygen cylinder for the travel, all are privileges that patients at Beltar PHC scarcely have.

Condition of Roads in Beltar
Condition of Roads in Beltar
Vehicles submerged during rainy season
Vehicles submerged during rainy season

Rivers surround Beltar; that means during the rainy season, transportation is very limited. So much so that, “We are referring your patient to a higher center” is a euphemism for, “We are sorry, that is all we can do here.” A gravid mother with thick meconium liquor was once referred in coordination with the municipality with the use of an excavator to cross the river. A proper functioning bridge across the river can solve this problem. The story of Beltar is many things; what it is not is a story without solutions. A common theme rather is a logical solution not implemented. Some reasons behind it are painfully obvious; others are yet to be explored.

Ambulance at Beltar PHC
Ambulance at Beltar PHC
Interior of ambulance at Beltar PHC
Interior of ambulance at Beltar PHC

Beltar PHC offers one ambulance at the subsidized fee of Rs. 4500 (US$ 39) for patient transport. It also has a fund of Rs. 50000 (US$ 432) for patients who can’t afford the fee for an ambulance. One ambulance is surely not enough for a PHC looking after 150 patients a day. What we could come up with is contacting the private vehicle owners of the area and using them in place of an ambulance. Although not as equipped, an oxygen cylinder tied to the back seat and the seat folded enough so that the patient can lie down converts any vehicle into a functioning ambulance. They charge more fare for the transport, which is another hurdle patients at Beltar face.

Patient being transported in private vehicles
Patient being transported in private vehicles

Many who visit the PHC view it as an alternative to more expensive and time-consuming tertiary care centers. That belief roots in the lack of knowledge about the hierarchy of medical care provided. This ties into the problem with rural transport because these patients view referral as a horizontal transfer rather than an upgrade of care.

Cite this article as: Carmina Shrestha, "A Road not Taken: Patient Transport in the Rural," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 6, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/09/06/a-road-not-taken-patient-transport-in-the-rural/, date accessed: September 22, 2019

Cranial CT Anatomy: A simple image guide for medical students

cranial ct anatomy

Computed tomography (CT) is the most useful brain imaging tool in emergency medical practice. It is also the first imaging modality in patients presenting to the emergency department with headache, stroke and head trauma.

Many cranial lesions can easily be recognized in CT. One of the key points of diagnosing cranial lesions is knowing the anatomical structures. This gives us the advantage to evaluate CT by combining clinical findings with the image.

We created an image series for the most essential eight anatomical structures.

cranial CT slices

Centrum Semiovale

centrum semiovale

Lateral Ventricles

lateral ventricles

3rd Ventricle, Basal Ganglia, Superior Cerebellar Cistern

3rd Ventricle, Basal Ganglia, Superior Cerebellar Cistern​

3rd Ventricle, Basal Ganglia, Quadrigeminal Plate

3rd Ventricle, Basal Ganglia, Quadrigeminal Plate

Midbrain, Interpeduncular Cistern​

interventricular cistern

Suprasellar Cistern, 4th Ventricle

Suprasellar cistern, 4th ventricle

Sella Turcica

sella turcica

Pons, Medullary Junction

pons medullary junction

Further Reading

Bonus Infographic

Cite this article as: Murat Yazici, "Cranial CT Anatomy: A simple image guide for medical students," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 4, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/09/04/cranial-ct-anatomy-a-simple-image-guide-for-medical-students/, date accessed: September 22, 2019

Goals in Mechanical Ventilation: Concepts for the Students

Goals in Mechanical Ventilation: Concepts for the Students
Authors: Dr. Job Heriberto Rodríguez Guillén (@job_rdz), Dr. Sergio Edgar Zamora Gómez (@ezg_galeno)


Mechanical ventilation (MV) is one of the cornerstones of life support in the emergency department. It provides time for establishing therapeutic management aimed at the triggering cause of injury until the patient improves physiologic balance (1). Therefore, MV can not be a unique and specific treatment for any disease by itself; but it has two general and fundamental goals: to support the injured lung and protect the healthy lung.

Set your goals: Support and Protect


MV supports the respiratory system; meanwhile, the primary disease becomes under control.

Example: A patient with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) due to pneumonia, where MV provides support to improve gas exchange and reduce work of breathing (WOB) meanwhile antibiotic treatment induces remission of the infectious disease.


MV is aimed to avoid complications not related to the primary disease. The patient-ventilator relationship becomes of benefit for the patient as his respiratory function is in the risk of injury because the primary disease does not allow him to breathe properly or because therapeutic interventions can reduce protective airway reflexes and lead to respiratory complications.

Example: Patients presenting neuromuscular diseases (Guillain-Barre syndrome), diseases affecting bulbar muscles (myasthenic crisis), decreased consciousness (stroke, poisoning) or severe traumatic brain injury, all these without lung injury at first but in high risk of pneumonitis and pneumonia due to aspiration of gastric content.

Goals of Mechanical Ventilation
Mechanical ventilation has two general and fundamental goals: to support the injured lung and protect the healthy lung.

Specific goals of mechanical ventilation

One of the specific objectives of MV is to promote the optimization of arterial blood gases levels and acid-base balance by providing oxygen and eliminating carbon dioxide (ventilation). MV can reduce the work of breathing by taking effort from respiratory muscles and maintaining the long-term respiratory support for patients with chronic diseases.

MV´s circle (2) begins by recognizing the patient´s need for mechanical ventilatory support. Intubation and ventilation decision making is an essential skill for emergency physicians. Consideration of the patient´s needs is the basis of this decision making. The main indications for intubation and mechanical ventilation are (3):

  1. Refractory hypoxemia
  2. Increased respiratory effort
  3. Apnea/hypopnea leading to inadequate ventilation (Hypercapnia)
  4. The inability for airway protection

The goals should be individualized and established according to the clinical situation that led the patient to required ventilatory support. Although standard criteria traditionally have been specified for the onset of MV (3), we must remember that indication for intubation and ventilation is an essential skill for every physician treating critical care patients and the key is just thinking about what the patient needs.

Standard criteria for starting mechanical ventilation
Acute Ventilatory Failure
pCO2 > 50 mmHg + pH < 7.30
Impending Ventilatory Failure
Maintains normal gasometric levels by increasing respiratory effort.
Severe Hypoxemia
pO2 < 60 mmHg + FiO2 > 50%

pCO2 and pO2 values at sea level

In general, we can encompass the specific objectives of MV in three fundamental principles that must be fulfilled in every patient by setting the goals according to the primary disease:

  1. Improve oxygenation (O2) and ventilation (CO2)
  2. Reduce respiratory effort
  3. Minimize ventilator-induced lung injury (VILI)


The goals of MV are established based on the primary disease that led the patient to need MV support, under the concept of protecting and supporting the lungs. Primum non nocere; lung-protective ventilation should be initiated in all patients who need it.

References and Further Reading

  1. Frank Lodeserto MD, “Simplifying Mechanical Ventilation – Part I: Types of Breaths”, REBEL EM blog, March 8, 2018. Available at: https://rebelem.com/simplifying-mechanical-ventilation-part/.
  2. Frank Lodeserto MD, “Simplifying Mechanical Ventilation – Part 2: Goals of Mechanical Ventilation & Factors Controlling Oxygenation and Ventilation”, REBEL EM blog, May 18, 2018. Available at: https://rebelem.com/simplifying-mechanical-ventilation-part-2-goals-of-mechanical-ventilation-factors-controlling-oxygenation-and-ventilation/.
  3. Scott Weingart. EMCrit Lecture – Dominating the Vent: Part I. EMCrit Blog. Published on May 24, 2010. Accessed on August 30th 2019. Available at [https://emcrit.org/emcrit/vent-part-1/ ].
Cite this article as: Job Guillen, "Goals in Mechanical Ventilation: Concepts for the Students," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 2, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/09/02/goals-in-mechanical-ventilation-concepts-for-the-students/, date accessed: September 22, 2019

iEM Monthly – September 2019

Welcome to the iEM Education Project Monthly Newsletter. We will share the achievements, information about top posts, chapters, activities and future plans of the project.

Hot News!

FLAME endorsed iEM

This month we received a great news from one of the regional emergency medicine organizations. Latin America Emergency Medicine Federation – Federacion Latinoamericana De Medicina De Emergencias endorsed iEM Education Project. We are looking forward to collaborate with them to improve undergraduate emergency medicine education around the globe. 


iEM will attend MEMC2019 at Dubrovnik.

The 10th Mediterranean Emergency Medicine Congress will be held 22-25 September 2019 at the Sun Gardens Hotel in Dubrovnik, Croatia. The congress is organized by American Academy of Emergency Medicine and Mediterranean Academy of Emergency Medicine.

Pre-congress courses will be held on 22 September with the first full day of Congress programming beginning 23 September and running until 25 September.

iEM will interview with Judith Tintinalli

iEM Team will interview with one of the icons of Emergency Medicine history, Judith Tintinalli during MEMC2019. 

iEM continues to meet and interview with world famous leaders of Emergency Medicine. Ian Stiel, Simon Carley, Tracy Sanson, Rob Rogers, Neil Cunningham are couple of them. You can watch or listen published episodes here.  

Judith Tintinalli

Free Emergency Medicine Clerkship iBook and pdf

iEM Free Book (2018e) reached to >3200 downloads. The book is written by 133 authors from 19 countries. It includes 106 topics, 841 pages, 454 images.

Blog Authors

There are three new blog authors joined our team in August, Bryn from USA, Sajan from Nepal and Neha from UAE. We welcome all of them. To see full blog authors team please click this link – https://iem-student.org/iem-blog-authors/

Bryn Dhir


Bryn Dhir is a researcher and physician-scientist, interested in Emergency Medicine residency programs. Bryn has numerous leadership and management skills for various clinical, administrative, and work initiatives around the globe.

neha 2


Neha Hudlikar is a graduate of RAK Medical & Health Sciences University and is currently training in Emergency Medicine at Zayed Military Hospital, Abu Dhabi. A big supporter of the FOAMed movement, she is passionate about developing and supporting innovative ideas that promote free access to medical education for all. Her main interests in Emergency Medicine include trauma, disaster medicine, PoCUS and development of EM in resource limited settings. She currently also serves as the Associate Editor of Emirates Society of Emergency Medicine Newsletter. Outside of medicine, an avid reader, tree-hugger and an advocate of gender equality.

Sajan Acharya


I am a medical graduate from Nepal. I am an eager supporter of FOAMed movement. I have always loved books. Medical school wanted me to read particular types, so I did. A poet at my core; I love to write about things that touch my heart. What better world to be in than medicine when you are on look out for moments that touches you. I find medicine fulfilling also because it feeds my passion for teaching.

Blog Posts

We published 12 posts during August 2019. The article “The research predicting septic shock” by Bryn Dhir was the top read article in August

Bryn Dhir
Bryn Dhir

Top Countries by Views

The iEM platform reached to 169 countries around the globe. In August, top countries by views are given below. 

Why Emergency Medicine? A medical student’s reflection

why emergency medicine - nada radulovic - canada

As the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS) application cycle approaches for the Class of 2020 in Canada, I have been reflecting on the common question of “Why Emergency Medicine (EM)?” This has encouraged me to consider all aspects of the specialty that I love, as well as some of the perceived challenges of pursuing EM residency training. Additionally, I have been asked about advice for medical students interested in exploring EM, mainly from those beginning medical school or clerkship this month. So, in an attempt at a personal reflection exercise, I am also hoping to provide some practical points for consideration for any medical student thinking about exploring this wonderful specialty.

Some of the reasons why I love Emergency Medicine:



From the clinical presentations and various procedures, to the patients and team members working in the emergency department, I am constantly drawn to the multifaceted and dynamic nature of EM. Speaking to well-seasoned staff physicians, this versatility has them constantly learning and encountering new things. During my first EM shift of clerkship, the first patient of the day came in with atrial fibrillation, the second was hypothermic and without vital signs, the third had lower back pain, and the fourth presented with a COPD exacerbation. The range in presentations and levels of acuity are something that greatly appeal to me and allow for constant growth in Medicine. This diversity provides endless opportunities to learn new things in the setting of, at times, very limited information and time.



Opportunities for subspecialization

EM offers several formal opportunities to find your niche within the specialty, in the form of fellowships. These areas include ultrasound, trauma, resuscitation and reanimation, critical care, toxicology, pediatric EM, disaster medicine, and medical education. This is not an exhaustive list and will vary depending on where you are training. The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians has developed an accessible directory for enhanced competencies: https://caep.ca/em-community/resident-section/enhanced-competency-directory/




One long-standing interest of mine throughout my post-secondary education has been Population and Global Health. Therefore, something that I really appreciate about EM is its portability. EM is present in an array of settings, from rural to large academic centers. This flexibility allows you to tailor your practice to your interests, both within and outside of Medicine. In a recent post by one of iEM’s blog authors, Dr. Ibrahim Sarbay, 82 countries were identified as recognizing EM as a primary specialty. See “Countries Recognize Emergency Medicine as a Specialty” for a breakdown of countries: https://iem-student.org/2019/05/13/countries-recognize-emergency-medicine/)



Working with vulnerable populations

This is something that continues to draw me to EM, as the emergency department serves as an entry point into the healthcare system for some individuals. Throughout my rotations, I have been privileged to work with various patients, and have found myself constantly inspired from learning about their unique challenges within the healthcare system, as well as the various interventions that have been developed to target social determinants of health at institutional and systemic levels. While there is considerable work that still needs to be done to address these disparities, I continue being fascinated with the various advancements that are underway. This has additionally expanded my understanding of humanity and has forced me to reflect on how I approach clinical interactions. Overall, it has allowed for considerable growth within Medicine and on a personal level. This continues to be one of the aspects of EM that I truly value most. 

Vulnerable Populations

Perceived challenges

I need to preface this by saying that it may be difficult to truly appreciate challenges of any specialty from solely experiencing it through the role of a medical student. However, these are points that I consider challenges of EM-based on my personal experiences during several EM rotations, as well as through discussion with residents and staff physicians.


Physician burnout

A recent study in JAMA by Dyrbye et al. (2018) surveyed second-year resident physicians in the United States. Their findings indicated a burnout prevalence (based on the Maslach Burnout Inventory) of 53.8% of surveyed EM residents. While EM did not exhibit the highest burnout rate (Urology, 63.8%; Neurology, 61.6%; Ophthalmology, 55.8%), it was on the higher end for specialties that were assessed. [1] The topics of burnout and wellness promotion have become fairly pronounced in the EM community. EM Cases released an episode in 2017 regarding burnout prevention and wellness during EM training, that featured Dr. Sara Gray and Chris Trevelyan. Link: https://emergencymedicinecases.com/preventing-burnout-promoting-wellness-emergency-medicine/


Practicing “fishbowl medicine”

I have heard this term thrown around quite a bit, alluding to the fact that specialties are observing the way that EM physicians are managing patients. The fishbowl effect reflects the tendency of a specialist in other disciplines to compare the actions of EM physicians to the standards of practice that are held in the setting of those specialists (e.g., the operating room, the specialty clinics, etc.). [2] While I recognize that this can occasionally cause conflict between groups, I personally love the multidisciplinary nature of EM and view the collaborative efforts with other specialties as further opportunities for growth regarding my understanding of various disease processes and overall management of patients. Dr. Sheldon Jacobson published an interesting reflection of how this concept can actually be viewed positively within the practice of EM [2]. 


Everyone has personal reasons for pursuing any specialty, and for many, the reasons for pursuing EM run deeper than those listed above. However, these are just some of the factors that I believe to be basic and practical considerations for this specialty. EM makes me excited to expand upon my knowledge base in Medicine, to constantly learn and better my understanding of the human condition, and to be a part of the supportive environment that multidisciplinary EM teams create. It is an ever-expanding field and I hope to one day be able to contribute to it in a meaningful way. I could go on and on about why I love the specialty, well beyond the limits of a blog post – I may be a little biased, but EM is pretty great!

References and Further Reading

  1. Dyrbye LN, Burke SE, Hardeman RR et al. Association of Clinical Specialty with Symptoms of Burnout and Career Choice Regret Among US Resident Physicians. JAMA. 2018 Sep;320(11):1114-1130.
  2. Jacobson S. The Fishbowl Effect. Acad Emerg Med, 2015 Oct;12(10):956-957.

If you liked this story, you may like these too!

Cite this article as: Nada Radulovic, "Why Emergency Medicine? A medical student’s reflection," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, August 30, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/08/30/why-emergency-medicine-a-medical-students-reflection/, date accessed: September 22, 2019

An upside-down cake: the EM differential diagnosis

An upside-down cake: the EM differential diagnosis

How we’re different

When I was rotating on surgery as a medical student, our attending once asked of our small group what may be concerning in the differential for right upper quadrant abdominal pain. A very eager and a somewhat brash student blurted immediately: “Echinococcal cyst!” The attending replied, “Well, that’s true, but if Echinococcal cyst is the first thing you think of as a surgical consultant, you’re crazy!”

On the other hand, take a practicing internal medicine physician like my Dad. He formulates his differentials with a very different strategy, which is: what is the most likely? A chronic cough is bronchitis (even with hemoptysis), pneumonia, GERD or postnasal drip. Shoulder pain is, of course, a sprain, bursitis, or some referred cervical impingement. And so on.

Unfortunately, neither hunting for zebras (an unofficial US name for exciting but rare diagnoses) nor settling for the most common works for emergency medicine. In fact, that is how true diagnoses may get missed and patients may start dying. 

Why we are different

The EM differential diagnosis is a pyramid tipped on its head. It is therefore different from how differentials are approached by many other specialties.

In EM, we first have to think of and rule out the most severe or threatening pathology. That’s a given. But our choices have to come from among the common killers, not Martian viruses or unheard of tumors from a medical encyclopedia. 

Amoebic meningitis is exciting to encounter in your practice. But guess what? Your patient won’t have it. At the same time, for EM physicians things like pulmonary embolus, aneurysm of the abdominal aorta, subarachnoid hemorrhage and necrotizing fasciitis are everyday icons on our cognitive desktops. While less common than a common cold, these things are by no means rare.

Why it is difficult

In EM, one can rest assured that common pathology will present atypically and not quite like the textbook.

Things are further complicated by confounders, mimics and the disjunction of concern.
Confounders are concurrent pathologic processes that the patient already has, which tend to get worse due to any new significant disease process or general body stress. CHF and COPD get exacerbated, kidneys become insufficient, anxiety and psychoses go florid and atrial fibrillation accelerates to rapid. How do you spot sepsis or an MI, which is the true cause of it all, underneath layers and layers of abnormal vitals and test results?
Mimics are things that pretend to be other diseases. PE presenting with a low-grade fever and a cough, carbon monoxide poisoning posing as geriatric altered mental status, and severe sepsis arriving as chest pain, dizziness and a bumped troponin. Such has happened many times in the past and continues to happen daily at all EDs globally.
The disjunction of concern is when your patient is not worried about what you are worried about. They don’t want to get cancer like their neighbor, but they have never heard of a TIA or an AAA. Kawasaki disease? Why don’t you just give my daughter better antibiotics? My uncle died of a heart attack at 35, not a “bisection” or whatever you called it…So I don’t want a CT scan!
An EM physician’s focus on ruling out worst-case scenarios may paradoxically contribute to a patient’s distrust at the end of the encounter. The patient’s agenda is to leave knowing what disease they have, while we are often satisfied knowing which horrible things a patient does do not have.

It may take years of practice to be able to persuade someone that you have done due diligence and your professional duty by excluding a whole lot of deadly things, while the exact diagnosis still remains elusive.

Secretly paranoid, openly confident and always nice

We are confident, but also afraid. We have to think of the worst yet possible scenario for any complaint, yet of course anticipate that the actual diagnosis will hopefully be something less severe and quite common – like a migraine. After all, after most CT scans and lumbar punctures, it is not a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

In EM, we are in this perpetual struggle with having to be professionally pessimistic and paranoid on the one hand, yet emotionally supportive and reassuring for the patient on the other. I always teach my students, even nursing trainees, that no one should be leaving an emergency department more scared or anxious than when they came in.

Your job as a rotating trainee in EM is to understand and learn this exact interplay.


For your attending, but more importantly for yourself and your patients, you have to be as concerned with sepsis from PID on a 16-year-old young woman with fever and abdominal pain as you are with appendicitis. The 86 year old grandmother with Afib but on no anti-coagulation, because she falls a lot is not just TIA or CVA prone. Her embolic clots may just as well be traveling downstream, causing that intermittent or out of proportion abdominal pain called mesenteric ischemia – for which you do not have a good lab test or imaging, by the way.

Here is a brief checklist:

  • For any anatomic complaint or a chief complaint type

    think of several real worst-case scenarios that are not zebras. Can something horrible yet by no means unheard of be presenting atypically? What steps can you take to prove or disprove it?

  • Think of confounders and mimics.

    What else could be going on? Like a stack of dominoes: what happened first, what happened next?

  • Address the patient’s concerns

    while carefully and patiently pursuing your own professional agenda.

  • When it turns out to be something common or benign,

    don’t forget to discuss worrisome signs for which to return. What if you’re still wrong?

If you liked this story, you may like these too!

Cite this article as: Anthony Rodigin, "An upside-down cake: the EM differential diagnosis," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, August 26, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/08/26/an-upside-down-cake-the-em-differential-diagnosis/, date accessed: September 22, 2019

iEM Content

iEM content general

iEM Website

iem webpage

iEM website is designed to provide a wide range of resources to medical students and educators. You can find all the topics of 2018 book provided by international authors, blog posts, and many details regarding iEM education project.

iEM 2018 Book in iBook and pdf formats

Download all content written by world-renowned professionals, emergency medicine education enthusiasts. It is a fantastic collaboration of all stakeholders.

2018 Book includes 106 topics, 841 pages, 454 images provided by 133 authors from 19 countries.

iEM Blog Posts

We have a wide range of blog authors from Nepal to Brazil, Canada to Sri Lanka, the USA to Tanzania. We post 2-3 times a week.

iEM Flickr Clinical Image Archive

iEM YouTube Video Archive