Question Of The Day #21

question of the day

Which of the following is the most appropriate next step in management for this patient’s condition?

This patient experienced a witnessed cardiac arrest at home, after which pre-hospital providers initiated cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR, or “chest compressions”) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS). ACLS includes the tenets of Basic Life Support (BLS), such as early initiation of high-quality CPR at a rate of 100-120 compressions/minute, compressing the chest to a depth of 5 cm (2 inches), providing 2 rescue breaths after every 30 compressions (30:2 ratio), avoiding interruptions to CPR, and allowing for adequate chest recoil after each compression. In the ACLS algorithm, intravenous epinephrine is administered every 3-5 minutes and a “pulse check” is performed after every 2 minutes of CPR. The patient’s cardiac rhythm, along with the clinical history, helps decide if the patient should receive defibrillation (“electrical shock”) or additional medications. The ACLS algorithm divides management into patients with pulseless ventricular tachycardia (pVT) or ventricular fibrillation (VF) and patients with pulseless electric activity (PEA) or asystole.

The cardiac rhythm seen during the pulse check for this patient is a wide complex tachycardia with a regular rhythm. In the setting of cardiac arrest, chest pain prior to collapse, and a history of acute coronary syndrome, ventricular tachycardia is the most likely cause. The ACLS algorithm advises unsynchronized cardioversion at 150-200 Joules for patients with pVT or VF. Watching the cardiac monitor for a rhythm change (Choice A) or checking for a pulse (Choice D) are not recommended after defibrillation. A major priority of both BLS and ACLS is to avoid interruptions to CPR, so the best next step in management is to continue CPR (Choice B) after defibrillation. Administration of intravenous adrenaline (Choice C) is helpful for cardiac arrests to initiate shockable rhythm and should be repeated every 3-5 minute or every 2 cycle of CPR, particularly valuable in asystole patients. Calcium gluconate is another drug that can be used in patients with hyperkalemia and indicated in a patient with known kidney disease, missed hemodialysis sessions, or a history of usage of medications that can cause hyperkalemia. Magnesium can be used for patients who show polymorphic VT, particularly Torsades de Pointes. The next best step in this scenario is to continue CPR, regardless of the etiology of the cardiac arrest. Correct Answer: B.


Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #21," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, November 13, 2020,, date accessed: November 25, 2020

Question Of The Day #20

question of the day
608 - Figure3 - pericardial effusion - ECG

Which of the following is the most appropriate next investigation for this patient’s condition?

This patient’s EKG demonstrates alternating amplitudes of QRS complexes, a phenomenon known as electrical alternans. This is caused by the heart swinging back and forth within a large pericardial effusion. The patient is tachycardic and borderline hypotensive, which should raise concern over impending cardiac tamponade. The next best investigation to definitively diagnose a large pericardial effusion with possible tamponade would be a cardiac sonogram (Choice B). This investigation could also guide treatment with pericardiocentesis in the event of hemodynamic decompensation and the development of obstructive shock. Other EKG signs of a large pericardial effusion are diffusely low QRS voltages and sinus tachycardia. Chest radiography (Choice C) may show an enlarged cardiac silhouette in this case and evaluate for alternative diagnoses (i.e. pneumothorax, pleural effusions, pneumonia, atelectasis), however, cardiac echocardiography is the best next investigation. CT pulmonary angiography (Choice D) would demonstrate the presence of a pericardial effusion along with differences in cardiac chamber size indicative of tamponade. Still, bedside cardiac sonogram is a faster test that prevents a delay in diagnosis. Sending a potentially unstable patient for a CT scan may also be dangerous. Arterial blood gas testing (Choice A) has no role in diagnosing pericardial effusion or cardiac tamponade. Correct Answer: B


Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #20," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, November 6, 2020,, date accessed: November 25, 2020

Approach to Acute Cough in Adults

Approach to Acute Cough in Adults

Cough is one of the most common complaints presenting to any emergency physician or primary care practitioner – whether it is the chief complaint or an associated symptom. An acute cough is one that has been present for less than three weeks. In the era of COVID-19, a patient presenting with an acute cough can be alarming and scary. So, now more than ever, it is important to develop a strong diagnostic approach to the acute cough, which is largely a clinical diagnosis.

Differential Diagnosis of Acute Cough

*Indicates the most common causes of acute cough.
Cause Example Symptoms / warning signs
Infectious (viral/bacterial) Upper respiratory tract infection aka common cold* Rhinorrhea, nasal obstruction, sneezing, scratchy/sore throat, malaise, headache, and no signs of consolidation
Acute bronchitis* Recent upper respiratory tract infection, and absence of COPD, and absence of high fever or other systemic signs
Influenza Fever, sore throat, nasal congestion, myalgia, headache, and no signs of consolidation
Pneumonia* Fever, tachycardia, tachypnea, consolidation signs on respiratory exam, and mental status change in patients >75y old
Pertussis Whooping cough and cough-emesis
COVID-19 Fever, non-productive cough, fatigue, dyspnea, and/or other less common symptoms such as sore throat, diarrhea, headache, skin rash, and anosmia
Post-nasal drip aka upper airway cough syndrome Post-nasal drainage sensation, need to clear throat, and rhinorrhea

Allergic rhinitis aka hay fever Itching and watering of eyes, rhinorrhea, pruritis
Exacerbation of a pre-existing chronic disease Exacerbation of Asthma   History of episodic wheezing, non-productive cough, dyspnea, reversible air-flow obstruction, allergen exposure or triggered by exercise
Exacerbation of COPD Smoking history, dyspnea, signs of obstruction on respiratory exam i.e. decreased breath sounds, and irreversible air-flow obstruction
Exacerbation of CHF Dyspnea, orthopnea, peripheral edema, gallop rhythm on cardiac exam, and elevated JVP
Drug-induced ACE inhibitor use Non-productive cough, tickling or scratchy sensation in throat typically arising within 1 week of starting medication
Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD)


Heartburn, regurgitation, dysphagia, and cough is more prominent at night
Other pulmonary causes Pulmonary embolism Clinical signs and symptoms of DVT, dyspnea, tachypnea, tachycardia, pleuritic chest pain, immobilization for 3 or more days, surgery in the past 4 weeks, history of DVT/PE, hemoptysis, and malignancy with active treatment in the past 6 months
Lung cancer Smoking history, new change in cough, hemoptysis, dyspnea, night sweats, weight loss, and signs of focal obstruction on respiratory exam i.e. decreased breath sounds
Foreign body aspiration Dyspnea, inspiratory stridor, choking, and elevated risk in children
Acute inhalation injury History of exposure to smoke (e.g. in firefighters, thermal burn victims) or chemicals (e.g. chlorine, ammonia)
Bronchiectasis Large volumes of purulent sputum, dyspnea, wheezing, and chest pain
Interstitial lung disease Non-productive cough, dyspnea, fatigue, weight loss

Picture the scene: A 23-year-old female presents to the emergency department with a cough that has been ongoing for one week. What are your next steps?


  1. Confirm the duration and timing of cough
  2. Nature of cough, i.e. whooping, hemoptysis, and productive vs non-productive?
  3. Presence of the following associated symptoms: fever, dyspnea, sore throat, headache, chest pain, heartburn, rhinorrhea, facial pressure/pain, nasal congestion, or weight loss
  4. History of any chronic lung disease (i.e. asthma, COPD), allergies, CHF, or immunosuppression?
  5. Smoking history?
  6. Medication history, i.e. ACE inhibitor use?

Physical Exam

  1. Vitals
  2. HEENT exam (head, eyes, ears, nose, and throat)
  3. Respiratory exam
  4. Cardiac exam, including JVP

Laboratory Tests

  • Send for COVID-19 swab according to your hospital’s guidelines
  • Order CBC if suspecting infection
  • Order ABG if dyspnea present or life-threatening cause of acute cough suspected
  • Order sputum culture if suspecting bacterial pneumonia
  • Spirometry if need to differentiate between obstructive lung disease (e.g., asthma, COPD) and restrictive lung disease (e.g., interstitial lung disease)


  • Consider starting with a Chest X-ray if red flags for serious pathology are present >> dyspnea, hemoptysis, chest pain, weight loss, immunosuppression, significant smoking history, elderly or at risk of aspiration, tachypnea or hypoxemia, abnormal cardiac or respiratory exam, or sepsis.
  • If suspecting foreign body aspiration, need to order bronchoscopy 

Please note that treatment of the conditions that may cause acute cough are not discussed in this blog post, but can be found through medical resources such as those in the references section. Treatment for acute cough often requires treating the underlying cause.


  1. Boujaoude ZC, Pratter MR. Clinical approach to acute cough. Lung. 2010;188 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S41-S46. doi:10.1007/s00408-009-9170-6
  2. Holzinger F, Beck S, Dini L, Stöter C, Heintze C. The diagnosis and treatment of acute cough in adults. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2014;111(20):356-363. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2014.0356
  3. Madison JM, Irwin RS. Cough: A worldwide problem. Otolarynogol Clin North Am. 2010 Feb;43(1):1-13, vii.
  4. Strong Medicine. An Approach to Cough. Published 25 March, 2018.
  5. University of Toronto. Cough and Dyspnea. 2015. Accessed 17 August, 2020.


Cite this article as: Sheza Qayyum, Canada, "Approach to Acute Cough in Adults," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, November 4, 2020,, date accessed: November 25, 2020

From Missed Hemodialysis to Multiple Arrhythmias

From Missed Hemodialysis to Multiple Arrhythmias

Case Presentation

A 78-year-old male, known case of Chronic Kidney Disease on maintenance hemodialysis, presented to the Emergency Department with dizziness and lethargy complaints about 2 days. He had missed his last hemodialysis session due to personal reasons. We could not elicit any further history details as was significantly dyspneic (no bystanders with him at the time of presentation). Hence, the patient was received in Bay 1 for immediate resuscitative measures. The patient was afebrile, conscious, and well oriented, but unable to communicate because of severe dyspnea.


HR – 142 beats/min
BP – not recordable
RR – 36 breaths/min
SpO2 – poor tracing, intermittently showed 98% on room air (15 LO2 via Non Rebreathing Mask was initiated nevertheless)


ECG on presentation
Monomorphic ventricular tachycardia

He was immediately connected to a defibrillator in anticipation of possible synchronized cardioversion. Simultaneously, the cause of the possible rhythm was being evaluated for and a thorough examination was carried out. On examination, his lung fields were clear. His left arm AV Fistula had a feeble thrill on palpation.

In suspicion of hyperkalemia as the cause of VT, patient was immediately started on potassium reduction measures while the point of care ABG report was awaited. He was treated with salbutamol nebulization 10mg, sodium bicarbonate 50 ml IV and 10% calcium gluconate 10ml IV. In view of hemodynamic instability, he was also started on intravenous noradrenaline infusion.

ABG Findings

pH – 7.010, pCO2 – 20.8 mmHg, pO2 – 125 mmHg, HCO3 – 7 mmol/L, Na – 126 mmol/L, K – 9.6 mmol/L

As hyperkalemia was confirmed, the patient was also given 200 ml of 25% dextrose with 12 units of Rapid-acting insulin IV. With the above measures, the patient’s cardiac rhythm came to a sine wave pattern. 

He was later taken up for emergency hemodialysis (HD) – Sustained Low Efficacy Dialysis (SLED) in the ICU, using a low potassium dialysate. Since his AV fistula was non-functioning, HD was done after placement of a femoral dialysis catheter. 2 hours into HD, the patient’s cardiac monitor showed a normal sinus rhythm. His hemodynamic status significantly improved. Noradrenaline infusion was gradually tapered and stopped by the end of the HD session, and repeat blood gas analysis and serum electrolytes showed improvement of all parameters. 

after hemodialysis

The patient was discharged 2 days later, after another session of hemodialysis (through AV fistula) and a detailed cardiology evaluation (ECHO – LVH, normal EF).

For the Inquisitive Minds

  1. The patient underwent a detailed POCUS evaluation, both in the ER and ICU. What findings do you expect to find on the RUSH examination for this patient?
  2. His previous ECHO report (done 1 month ago) mentioned left ventricular hypertrophy and normal ejection fraction. So what would be the reason behind the POCUS findings? Is it reversible?
  3. Why was the AV fistula non-functioning at the time of presentation? When would it have started to function again?
  4. Despite not having hypoxia, this patient was given supplemental oxygen. Did he really require it, and if so, what was the rationale?
  5. What was the necessity for carrying out SLED for this patient?
  6. Why was this patient not immediately cardioverted in the ER?
  7. If this patient had gone into cardiac arrest, what drugs would you have given for management of hyperkalemia?
  8. How differently would you have managed this patient?

Please give your answers and comments into "leave a reply" area below.

Cite this article as: Gayatri Lekshmi Madhavan, India, "From Missed Hemodialysis to Multiple Arrhythmias," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, November 2, 2020,, date accessed: November 25, 2020
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Question Of The Day #19

question of the day
52 - Perforated Viscus

Which of the following is the most likely cause of the patient’s condition?

All patients who present to the emergency department with chest pain should be evaluated for the top life-threatening conditions causing chest pain. Some of these include myocardial infarction, pulmonary embolism, esophageal rupture, tension pneumothorax, cardiac tamponade, and aortic dissection. Many of these diagnoses can be ruled-out or deemed less likely with a detailed history, physical exam, EKG, and sometimes imaging and blood testing. This patient presents with vague, burning chest pain, nausea, and tachycardia on exam. Pulmonary embolism (Choice A) is hinted by the patient’s tachycardia, but the patient has no tachypnea or risk factors mentioned for PE. Additionally, the chest X-ray findings demonstrate an abnormality that can explain the patient’s symptoms. Pancreatitis (Choice B) and Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (Choice D) are also possible diagnoses, especially with the location and description of the patient’s pain. However, Chest X-ray imaging offers an explanation for the patient’s symptoms. The patient’s Chest X-ray demonstrates the presence of pneumoperitoneum. In the presence of NSAID use, this radiological finding raises concern over a perforated viscus from advanced peptic ulcer disease (Choice C). Peptic ulcer disease (PUD) is most commonly caused by Helicobacter pylori infection, but NSAIDs, iron supplements, alcohol, cocaine, corrosive substance ingestions, and local infections can cause PUD. PUD is a clinical diagnosis which can be confirmed visually via endoscopy. The treatment for PUD includes initiation of a proton pump inhibitor (H2-receptor blockers are 2nd line), avoiding the inciting agent, and H.pylori antibiotic regimens in confirmed H.pylori cases. The treatment for a perforated peptic ulcer with pneumoperitoneum is IV fluids, IV antibiotics, Nasogastric tube placement, and surgical consultation for repair.


Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #19," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, October 30, 2020,, date accessed: November 25, 2020

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Question Of The Day #18

question of the day
839 - diffuse ST elevation - pericarditis?

Which of the following is the most appropriate next step in management for the patient’s condition?

This patient presents to the emergency department with signs and symptoms consistent with acute pericarditis from a likely viral etiology. Common causes of acute pericarditis include idiopathic, infectious (viral, bacterial, or fungal), malignancy, drug-induced, rheumatic disease-associated (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.), radiation, post-MI (Dressler’s Syndrome), uremia, and severe hypothyroidism. The chest pain associated with this diagnosis is typically worse with supine positioning, improved with sitting forward, worse with inspiration, and may radiate to the back. A pericardial friction rub may be heard on auscultation of the chest, and there may be a low-grade fever on the exam. The hallmark EKG demonstrates diffuse ST-segment elevation with PR segment depression, although normal ST segments or T wave inversions can be seen on EKG later in the disease process. The treatment of acute pericarditis depends on the underlying cause of the disease. This patient has likely viral pericarditis with no clinical signs of myocarditis (i.e. fluid overload, cardiogenic shock, etc.) or cardiac tamponade (i.e. obstructive shock, distended neck veins, muffled heart sounds, low voltage QRS complexes or electrical alternans on EKG). A cardiac sonogram would be prudent to evaluate for a pericardial effusion. This patient’s disease course likely will resolve with NSAIDs in 1-2 weeks. Ibuprofen (Choice C) is the preferred treatment over aspirin (Choice A) or steroids (Choice B). Colchicine (Choice D) can be useful in recurrent episodes of pericarditis to reduce recurrence and in acute pericarditis not responding to NSAIDs. Correct Answer: C 


Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #18," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, October 23, 2020,, date accessed: November 25, 2020

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Question Of The Day #17

question of the day

Which of the following is the most likely cause for the patient’s elevated cardiac troponin level in the emergency department?

Elevated cardiac troponin levels, or troponinemia, are one sign that the myocardium may be infarcting or under some type of stressful condition. Cardiac troponin levels are assessed in conjunction with the clinical history, physical exam, EKG, and another laboratory testing in deciding if troponinemia is due to cardiac ischemia or another condition. Conditions associated with elevated cardiac troponin levels include cardiac ischemia (i.e. STEMI, NSTEMI), cardiac contusion, cardiac procedures, congestive heart failure, renal failure, aortic dissection, tachy- or bradyarrhythmias, rhabdomyolysis with cardiac injury, Takotsubo syndrome, pulmonary embolism, acute stroke, myocarditis, sepsis, severe burns, extreme exertion, and other conditions. It is unlikely that this patient had elevated troponin levels from Acute coronary syndrome (Choice D) as her cardiac catheterization results showed no significant occlusive lesions in the coronary arteries. D-Dimer levels do increase with patient age, but cardiac troponin levels do not increase with patient age (Choice B). Sepsis (Choice C) is a cause for elevated troponin levels, but this patient has no clinical signs or sepsis symptoms. Atrial fibrillation with a rapid rate (Choice A) is the most likely cause of this patient’s elevated troponin level. Correct Answer: A 


Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #17," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, October 16, 2020,, date accessed: November 25, 2020

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Question Of The Day #16

question of the day

Which of the following is the most appropriate next step in management for this patient’s condition?

This patient sustained a penetrating traumatic injury to the left chest and presented to the emergency department with hemodynamic instability (tachycardic and hypotensive). Some differential diagnoses to consider on arrival include tension pneumothorax, cardiac tamponade, aortic injury, or aero-digestive tract injury. Prior to taking a detailed history on any trauma patient, a primary survey should be performed. The goal of the primary survey in a trauma patient is to identify and treat any life-threatening injuries as soon as possible. The primary survey is also known as the “ABCs.” Sometimes it is referred to as the “ABCDEFs.” This acronym stands for Airway, Breathing, Circulation, Disability, Exposure, and FAST exam (How to learn eFAST exam for free). Each letter is addressed and assessed in the order they exist in the alphabet. This creates a methodical, algorithmic approach to assist the practitioner in assessing the trauma patient for life-threatening injuries. The sonographic view shown in this question is the subxiphoid (cardiac) view and demonstrates the presence of free fluid. Free fluid on ultrasound appears black, or “anechoic” and is assumed to be blood in the setting of trauma. The free fluid is highlighted by red stars in the image below. The collapse of the right ventricle is shown by the yellow arrow in the below image.

cardiac tamponade - explained
SS Video 3 Pericardial Tamponade

In conjunction with hemodynamic instability and a history of penetrating chest trauma, this sonographic view strongly supports the diagnosis of cardiac tamponade. Consulting the general surgery team for exploratory laparotomy (Choice A) would be the correct course of action for a patient with hemodynamic instability and free fluid on the other abdominal views of the FAST exam. Needle decompression of the chest (Choice B) would be the correct initial treatment for a tension pneumothorax. The patient described in the case has clear bilateral lung sounds, no tracheal deviation mentioned, normal O2 saturation on room air, and sonographic demonstration of cardiac tamponade. A CT scan of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis (Choice D) would be indicated in this patient if he had normal vital signs and no free fluid on the FAST exam. A pericardiocentesis (Choice C) is the most appropriate next step in the management of this patient with cardiac tamponade to relieve signs of obstructive shock. It should be noted that this procedure has limitations and is not always effective. Pericardiocentesis is a temporizing treatment with pericardiotomy being the definitive therapy. Blood in an acute hemopericardium may clot and be unable to be aspirated with a large-bore needle. The procedure may injure surrounding organs, such as the liver, intestines, or heart itself. Ultrasound-guidance should be used whenever possible to avoid injury to surrounding organs. Emergent thoracotomy to relieve the cardiac tamponade should be performed on any patient with confirmed cardiac tamponade and cardiac arrest in the Emergency Department. Correct Answer: C


Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #16," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, October 9, 2020,, date accessed: November 25, 2020

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Question Of The Day #15

question of the day
qod 15 - pleuritic chest pain

Which of the following is the best course of action to further evaluate for a diagnosis of pulmonary embolism?

Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a potentially lethal diagnosis evaluated by a combination of a thorough history, physical exam, and the use of risk stratification scoring tools. The Wells criteria and the PE rule-out criteria (PERC) are two well-accepted risk stratification tools for PE. These criteria are each listed below (Wieters et al., 2020).

Wells’ Criteria for Pulmonary Embolism

CriteriaPoint Value
Clinical signs and symptoms of DVT+3
PE is #1 diagnosis, or equally likely+3
Heart rate > 100+1.5
Immobilization at least 3 days, or Surgery in the Previous 4 weeks+1.5
Previous, objectively diagnosed PE or DVT+1.5
Malignancy w/ Treatment within 6 mo, or palliative+1
Score >4 = High probability
Score 2–4 = Moderate probability
Score <2 = Low probability

Pulmonary Embolism Rule Out Criteria

All Variables Must Be Present for <2% Chance of PE
Pulse oximetry >94% (room air)
HR <100
No prior PE or DVT
No recent surgery or trauma within prior 4 wk
No hemoptysis
No estrogen use
No unilateral leg swelling
The patient in this clinical vignette would have a Wells score of 1.5 (low risk) due to her persistent tachycardia of unknown etiology. The PERC rule can not be applied to this patient as she is over 50-years-old and has tachycardia. If the patient was low risk on Wells score and meet all the PERC rule criteria, she would have a less than 2% likelihood of her symptoms being due to a PE. It is important to note that only patients with a low-risk Wells score (low pretest probability for PE) can be subjected to the PERC rule. A low-risk Wells score (<2) is investigated with a D-Dimer test (Choice B), while moderate to high-risk Wells scores are investigated with a CT Pulmonary Angiogram (CTPA) (Choice C). A V/Q Scan (Choice A) is not a first-line test for the diagnosis of PE as it is less sensitive than a CTPA scan. Unlike a CTPA scan, a V/Q scan may be nondiagnostic in the setting of lung consolidation, effusions, or other airspace diseases. V/Q scans are second-line tests to CTPA when there are contraindications to a CTPA (i.e., renal failure). Lorazepam (Choice D) is a benzodiazepine that may be helpful in reducing tachycardia, which is secondary to anxiety. However, this therapy does not help further discern if the patient may have a PE. Correct Answer: B 


Wieters J, McDonough J, Catral J. Chest Pain. In: Stone C, Humphries RL. eds. CURRENT Diagnosis & Treatment: Emergency Medicine, 8e. McGraw-Hill; Accessed August 17, 2020.

Nickson, C. (2019). Pulmonary Embolism. Life in the Fastlane. Accessed on August 17, 2020.

Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #15," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, October 2, 2020,, date accessed: November 25, 2020

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Question Of The Day #14

question of the day
question of the day 14
40.1 - Pneumothorax 1

Which of the following is the most appropriate treatment for this patient’s condition?

Anticoagulation (Choice A) would be the proper treatment for pulmonary embolism, NSTEMI/STEMI, and other conditions. This patient is dyspneic and hypoxemic on the exam, but his chest X-ray offers an alternative explanation for his symptoms. IV antibiotics (Choice D) would be helpful for pneumonia and COPD exacerbation, both of which are possible in this patient, but his chest X-ray offers an alternative explanation for his symptoms. Needle decompression of the left chest (Choice B) would be the appropriate initial treatment for a left-sided “tension” pneumothorax. This patient does have a large left-sided pneumothorax, but the X-ray lacks tracheal deviation, mediastinal shift, and left hemidiaphragm flattening, which can be attributed to tension pneumothorax. Most importantly, the patient lacks the hemodynamic instability that defines tension physiology (i.e. hypotension and tachycardia). In addition, the diagnosis and treatment of tension pneumothorax should be made clinically prior to chest radiography. Signs of hemodynamic instability along with tracheal deviation, absent unilateral lung sounds, and a history of trauma all support a diagnosis of tension pneumothorax. The treatment of a tension pneumothorax requires prompt recognition, needle decompression at the 3rd intercostal space at the midclavicular line, and a tube thoracostomy at the 4-5th intercostal space the anterior axillary line. The recommended needle decompression location is recently shifted to 4-5th intercostal space at the mid-anterior axillary line because the studies showed lower success rates in anterior – mid clavicular approach in adults. This patient has a spontaneous left-sided pneumothorax, not a tension pneumothorax. This is likely secondary to his coughing episodes and severe COPD. The treatment for this would be supplemental oxygen and the placement of a small-bore chest tube (i.e. “pig tail) in the left chest. Correct Answer: C. 


Smith LM, Mahler SA. Chest Pain. In: Tintinalli JE, Ma O, Yealy DM, Meckler GD, Stapczynski J, Cline DM, Thomas SH. eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 9e. McGraw-Hill; Accessed August 17, 2020.

Nickson, C. (2019) Pneumothorax CCC. Life in the Fastlane. Accessed August 17, 2020.

Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #14," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 25, 2020,, date accessed: November 25, 2020

Question Of The Day #13

question of the day

Which of the following is the most appropriate next step in management for this patient’s condition?

This patient presents to the emergency department after an atypical, brief episode of chest pain. The list of potential diagnoses that may have caused the pain episodes is extensive. The focus of the Emergency Medicine practitioner should not be to determine the diagnosis per say, but rather to be to identify the presence of any life-threatening conditions (i.e. Myocardial infarction, Aortic dissection, Esophageal Rupture, Pulmonary embolism, Tension pneumothorax, Cardiac tamponade, etc.). Many of these serious diagnoses can be evaluated with a detailed history, physical exam, and basic imaging and lab work if needed. Many risk stratification tools have been developed to evaluate the likelihood a patient has chest pain due to Acute Coronary Syndrome. One well-supported tool with international validation is the HEART score tool. The HEART score categorizes a patient as low (0-3), moderate (4-6), or high risk (7-10) for a Major Adverse Cardiac Event (MACE) based on the patient’s history, EKG, age, risk factors, and troponin level. The below chart from Wieters et al. (2020) outlines the HEART score categories and how to make clinical decisions based on a patient’s score.

HEART score for cardiac risk assessment of major adverse cardiac event (MACE).

CategoryScoreExplanationRisk Features
HistoryHigh-risk features
• Middle- or left-sided chest pain
• Heavy chest pain
• Diaphoresis
• Radiation
• Nausea and vomiting
• Exertional
• Relief of symptoms by sublingual nitrates

Low-risk features
• Well localized
• Sharp pain
• Non-exertional
• No diaphoresis
• No nausea and vomiting
Slightly Suspicious 0Mostly low-risk features
Moderately Suspicious+1Mixture of high-risk and low-risk features
Highly Suspicious+2Mostly high-risk features
Normal0Completely Normal
Non-specific Repolarization Disturbance+1Non-specific repolarization disturbance• Repolarization abnormalities
• Non-specific T wave changes
• Non-specific ST wave depression or elevation
• Bundle branch blocks
• Pacemaker rhythms
• Left ventricular hypertrophy
• Early repolarization
• Digoxin effect
Significant ST Depression+2Significant ST depression• Ischemic ST-segment depression
• New ischemic T wave inversions
≥ 65+2
Risk Factors• Obesity (Body-Mass Index ≥ 30)
• Current or recent (≤ 90 days)smoker
• Currently treated diabetes mellitus
• Family history of coroner artery disease (1st degree relative < 55 year old)
• Hypercholesterolemia


Any history of atherosclerotic disease earn 2 points:
• Know Coroner artery Disease: Prior myocardial infarctions, percutan coronary intervention (PCI) or coronary artery bypass graft
• Prior stroke or transient ischemic attack
• Peripheral arterial disease
No known risk factors0
1-2 risk factors+1
≥ 3 risk factors or history of atherosclerotic disease+2
Initial Troponin
≤ normal limit0
1-3 x normal limit+1
> 3x normal limit+2

Score 0–3 = 2.5 % MACE over next 6 wk: Discharge home
Score 4–6 = 22.3% MACE over next 6 wk: Admit for observation
Score 7–10 = 72.7% MACE over next 6 wk: Admit with early invasive strategies

The patient’s HEART score in this question would be 2 (1 point for age and 1 point for hypertension as a risk factor). This categorizes the patient as low risk for a MACE over the next six weeks. The appropriate course of action for this patient would be discharge home with prompt outpatient follow-up (Choice B). Admission for cardiac testing (Choice D) would be warranted for a moderate-high risk HEART score. Prescribing a benzodiazepine (Choice C) would not be warranted as this patient is asymptomatic and the pain episode is vague and atypical. Benzodiazepines are sometimes useful in patients with chest pain due to anxiety. Cardiology consultation (Choice A) would not be warranted as the patient has a low HEART score, is currently asymptomatic with normal imaging, blood work and troponin, and a normal EKG. Correct Answer: B 


Smith LM, Mahler SA. Chest Pain. In: Tintinalli JE, Ma O, Yealy DM, Meckler GD, Stapczynski J, Cline DM, Thomas SH. eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 9e. McGraw-Hill; Accessed August 17, 2020.

Wieters J, McDonough J, Catral J. Chest Pain. In: Stone C, Humphries RL. eds. CURRENT Diagnosis & Treatment: Emergency Medicine, 8e. McGraw-Hill; Accessed August 17, 2020.

Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #13," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 18, 2020,, date accessed: November 25, 2020

Question Of The Day #12

question of the day

Which of the following medications should be avoided to prevent worsening of this patient’s condition?

This elderly female patient presents with chest pain described as post-prandial burning, radiating to the shoulders, and with associated nausea and diaphoresis. Burning chest pain after eating supports diagnoses, such as peptic ulcer disease, gastritis, gastroesophageal reflux, or biliary disease. However, chest pain that radiates to both shoulders (2.58 likelihood ratio) or has associated diaphoresis (1.50 likelihood ratio) should be very concerning for acute myocardial infarction (Smith & Mahler, 2020). Associated symptoms that should raise concern for acute coronary syndrome are any radiation of the chest pain, pain worsened with exertion, associated nausea or vomiting, pain described as pressure or squeezing, pain with associated diaphoresis, and pain described as feeling similar to prior ischemic events. This patient’s EKG demonstrates an inferior ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI). This is indicated by two or more inferior EKG leads (II, III, and aVF) showing ST-segment elevation greater than 1 mm and reciprocal ischemic changes indicated in lateral leads (I, aVL). Aspirin (Choice A) should be given to all patients with high suspicion for ACS, assuming there are no contraindications. This patient has a confirmed STEMI on her EKG and should receive Aspirin for its antiplatelet effects. Ibuprofen (Choice B) may help the patient’s pain, but likely would not acutely worsen the patient’s clinical condition. Antacids (Choice C) are relatively benign medications, and they would be unlikely to worsen the patient’s clinical condition. Nitroglycerin (Choice D) is often given in patients with anginal chest pain for pain relief. In many inferior STEMIs, nitroglycerin can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure and should be avoided. These patients may have infarction of the right ventricle, which makes these patients sensitive to nitrates and prone to precipitous drops in blood pressure. IV fluids are the preferred initial therapy in the setting of hypotension. About 40% of patients with an inferior STEMI have concurrent right ventricular infarction. About 80% of inferior STEMIs are caused by occlusions in the right coronary artery (RCA) and about 18% are from an occlusion in the left circumflex artery (LCx). Occluded vessels in both territories can cause right ventricular infarction. Correct Answer: D  


Smith LM, Mahler SA. Chest Pain. In: Tintinalli JE, Ma O, Yealy DM, Meckler GD, Stapczynski J, Cline DM, Thomas SH. eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 9e. McGraw-Hill; Accessed August 17, 2020.

Burns, E. (2019) Inferior STEMI. Life in the Fast Lane. Accessed August 17, 2020.

Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #12," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 11, 2020,, date accessed: November 25, 2020