Focused Assessment with Sonography in Trauma (FAST): An Overview

Traumatic injuries are one of the leading causes of death, and intraperitoneal bleeds occur in approximately 12% of blunt traumas [1]. A quick assessment of trauma and detection of intraperitoneal fluid is increasingly essential in trauma patients’ assessment. The implementation of point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) has had a significant impact on patient management, especially in a trauma setting. POCUS is easy to use at the bedside, non-invasive and inexpensive.

The Focused Assessment with Sonography in Trauma (FAST) is an ultrasound protocol used to assess hemoperitoneum and hemopericardium [2]. The FAST protocol is sensitive and specific for detecting intraperitoneal free fluid. According to previous studies, sensitivity ranges from 75-100%, and specificity ranges from 88-100% [3]. The FAST exam is rapid and can be completed in less than 5 minutes. It also has multiple advantages, including decreased time to interventions like surgery and length of stay at the hospital [4]. The Extended FAST (eFAST) protocol, which involves examinations of each hemithorax for hemothorax and pneumothoraces, has recently been introduced by several institutions [2].

Regions Examined

The FAST exam assesses the pericardium and multiple potential spaces within the peritoneal cavity for free fluid. The patient is often assessed in the supine position.

The right flank or right upper quadrant (RUQ) view assesses the hepatorenal recess (also known as Morrison’s pouch), as well as the right paracolic gutter, the hepato-diaphragmatic area, and the caudal edge of the left liver lobe [2]. The pericardial view, also known as the subcostal or the subxiphoid, is usually assessed next. The liver is commonly used as a sonographic window of the heart to evaluate pericardium. Ultrasound can detect little pericardial fluid with sensitivity and specificity approaching 100% [5]. The pericardial view also helps to differentiate between pleural and pericardial effusions and visualize right ventricular collapse during diastole [2]. Next, the left upper quadrant (LUQ) is used to visualize the splenorenal recess, the subphrenic space and the left paracolic gutter. If the eFAST protocol is being conducted, the RUQ and LUQ views are also used to examine the left and right hemithorax. Lastly, the pelvic or the suprapubic view is used to assess for free fluid in the rectovesical pouch in males and rectouterine and vesicouterine pouches in women [2]. The bladder acts as a sonographic window for this view.


While there are no complications related to the FAST exam itself, the use of ultrasound does have some limitations, one of which is the requirement for at least 150-200 cc of intraperitoneal fluid for an ultrasound to be able to detect. This can lead to false negatives when free fluid is in fact present [6]. False positives in the FAST exam may also occur and can be due to the presence of ascites, pre-existing pleural or pericardial effusions unrelated to the trauma, ruptured ovarian cysts or ruptured ectopic pregnancies [2]. Healthcare workers should be aware that POCUS and the FAST protocol have limitations dependent on the provider’s experience and the patient’s body habitus.   

Further Reading and Free Online Course


  1. Poletti, P. A., Mirvis, S. E., Shanmuganathan, K., Takada, T., Killeen, K. L., Perlmutter, D., Hahn, J., & Mermillod, B. (2004). Blunt abdominal trauma patients: can organ injury be excluded without performing computed tomography?. The Journal of Trauma57(5), 1072–1081.
  2. Bloom, B. A., & Gibbons, R. C. (2020). Focused Assessment with Sonography for Trauma.
  3. Brenchley, J., Walker, A., Sloan, J. P., Hassan, T. B., & Venables, H. (2006). Evaluation of focussed assessment with sonography in trauma (FAST) by UK emergency physicians. Emergency Medicine Journal23(6), 446–448.
  4. Melniker, L. A., Leibner, E., McKenney, M. G., Lopez, P., Briggs, W. M., & Mancuso, C. A. (2006). Randomized controlled clinical trial of point-of-care, limited ultrasonography for trauma in the emergency department: the first sonography outcomes assessment program trial. Annals of Emergency Medicine48(3), 227–235.
  5. Mandavia, D. P., Hoffner, R. J., Mahaney, K., & Henderson, S. O. (2001). Bedside echocardiography by emergency physicians. Annals of emergency medicine38(4), 377–382.
  6. Von Kuenssberg Jehle, D., Stiller, G., & Wagner, D. (2003). Sensitivity in detecting free intraperitoneal fluid with the pelvic views of the FAST exam. The American journal of emergency medicine21(6), 476–478.
Cite this article as: Maryam Bagherzadeh, Canada, "Focused Assessment with Sonography in Trauma (FAST): An Overview," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 20, 2021,, date accessed: October 1, 2023

Question Of The Day #40

question of the day

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

This elderly patient presents to the emergency department with left lower abdominal pain, constipation, and anorexia. The exam shows fever, tachycardia, and marked left lower quadrant tenderness. Compared to younger patients, abdominal pain in an elderly patient has a higher likelihood of being due to a surgical emergency or from a diagnosis that carries higher mortality. Elderly patients may have more nonspecific associated symptoms that may make it difficult to confirm a dangerous diagnosis without advanced imaging. Additionally, elderly patients do not always have a fever or elevated white blood cells during an abdominal infection. The differential diagnosis of abdominal pain in an elderly patient should be broad and encompass conditions related to many body systems.

The most likely diagnosis for this patient is diverticulitis based on the location of the pain. Features of diverticulitis include left lower quadrant pain, nausea, vomiting, change in bowel habits (diarrhea or constipation), anorexia, fever, and leukocytosis. Right-sided diverticulitis is more common in patients of Asian descent, so these patients may alternatively present with right lower quadrant pain. Treatment for acute diverticulitis includes antibiotics, bowel rest, hydration, increased dietary fiber, and pain management.

Other potential diagnoses to consider for this patient include perforated diverticulitis, abdominal abscess, colitis, bowel obstruction, malignancy, AAA, urinary tract infection, ureterolithiasis, and soft tissue infections. The best next step in the management of this patient is to treat empirically for an abdominal infection with IV hydration, antipyretics, and antibiotics. Sepsis from a gastrointestinal source requires antibiotics that cover both gram-negative and anaerobic bacteria. IV Vancomycin (Choice A) is helpful for skin infections, soft tissue infections, MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staph aureus) infections, or other infections from gram-positive organisms. Vancomycin would not include coverage for a gastrointestinal source. IV Metronidazole covers anaerobic bacteria, and Ciprofloxacin covers gram-negative bacteria. This makes Choice D the best antibiotic choice for this patient. Other options include IV ampicillin-sulbactam, ampicillin and metronidazole, piperacillin-tazobactam, ticarcillin-clavulanate, or imipenem. A CT scan on the abdomen and pelvis (Choice B) should be performed on this patient (ideally with PO and IV contrast). However, IV hydration and antibiotics are a more important initial step to address the patient’s sepsis. CT scanning is recommended for first-time diverticulitis episodes or if there are alternative diagnoses on the differential. Patients with a history of recurrent diverticulitis who present to the Emergency department with uncomplicated acute diverticulitis are able to be treated empirically with oral antibiotics in the outpatient setting. Ill-appearing patients, have no prior history of diverticulitis or have possible alternative diagnoses should get CT imaging. Emergent colonoscopy (Choice C) is not indicated as part of the Emergency department management of acute diverticulitis. In fact, colonic inflammation or inflamed diverticuli are contraindications to colonoscopy (increased risk of bowel rupture). Correct answer: D


Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #40," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, May 21, 2021,, date accessed: October 1, 2023

Question Of The Day #39

question of the day
Abnormal Right Upper Quadrant

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

This female patient presents to the Emergency department with atraumatic right shoulder pain, generalized abdominal discomfort, and vaginal bleeding.  She is found to have a positive urine pregnancy test and signs of shock on physical exam (hypotension and tachycardia).  The FAST exam (Focused Assessment with Sonography for Trauma) demonstrates free fluid around the liver.  This quick bedside sonographic exam evaluates the right upper quadrant (liver, right kidney, right lung base), left upper quadrant (spleen, left kidney, left lung base), suprapubic area (bladder), and subxiphoid area (view of heart).  The FAST exam is typically used in the setting of trauma to assess for intra-abdominal bleeding, or “free fluid”.  Fluid on ultrasound appears black, or anechoic.  In the setting of trauma or presumed hemorrhagic shock, free fluid is assumed to be blood.  The hepato-renal recess, also known as Morrison’s pouch, is the most common site for fluid to be seen on a FAST exam.  For this reason, the right upper quadrant should always be viewed first during a FAST exam if there is concern for hemorrhagic shock.  The patient’s right upper quadrant FAST view is annotated below.

This patient is in shock with free fluid in her right upper quadrant FAST view.  In the setting of a pregnancy of unknown origin, shock, and abdominal free fluid, a ruptured ectopic pregnancy is assumed to be the diagnosis.  A cystic adnexal structure and a uterus without a gestational sac can also be noted on ultrasound.  Ectopic pregnancy can present with mild symptoms ranging from abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding to signs of shock with hemoperitoneum as in this patient.  Risk factors for ectopic pregnancy include prior ectopic pregnancies, prior tubal surgeries, prior sexually transmitted infections, tobacco smoking, and use of an intrauterine device (IUD).  Initial Emergency department treatment should include volume resuscitation with blood products, pre-operative laboratory testing, and prompt OB/GYN consultation (Choice C).  Patients who are unstable, show signs of shock, or have large ectopic pregnancies are treated operatively.  Patients with stable vital signs, small ectopic pregnancies, and minimal symptoms are treated medically with Methotrexate (Choice A).   This patient’s hemodynamic instability makes Methotrexate contraindicated in her treatment course.  The patient’s atraumatic shoulder pain is likely from free fluid in the right upper quadrant, causing referred pain to the shoulder from diaphragmatic irritation.  A shoulder X-ray (Choice B) is not indicated in this patient.  Rho(D) immune globulin (RhoGAM) (Choice D) is an important treatment to provide in Rh-negative mothers with ectopic pregnancy.  RhoGAM is indicated in maternal-fetal hemorrhage in order to prevent the maternal immune system from attacking fetal Rh-positive cells in future pregnancies.  RhoGAM is indicated in Rh-negative mothers, not Rh-positive mothers.  The question does not indicate the mother’s blood type or Rh status, however, RhoGAM is not the best initial treatment.  Treatment of the hemorrhagic shock and OB/GYN consultation are the best next steps.  Correct Answer: C


Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #39," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, May 14, 2021,, date accessed: October 1, 2023

Question Of The Day #5

question of the day
qod 5 trauma

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

This patient has sustained blunt abdominal trauma from his seat belt. This is indicated by the linear area of ecchymoses, known as a “seat belt sign”. This is a worrisome physical exam finding that should raise a concern about a severe intra-abdominal injury. All trauma patients presenting to the emergency department should be assessed using an organized approach, including a primary survey (“ABCs”) followed by a secondary survey (more detailed physical examination). The FAST (Focused Assessment with Sonography in Trauma) examination is part of the primary survey in a trauma patient. Some sources abbreviate the primary survey in trauma as “ABCDEF”, which stands for Airway, Breathing, Circulation, Disability, Exposure, FAST exam. The primary survey attempts to identify any life-threatening diagnoses that need to be addressed in a time-sensitive manner. Examples include cardiac tamponade, tension pneumothorax, and intra-abdominal bleeding. The FAST exam includes 4 basic views: the right upper quadrant view (liver and right kidney), pelvis view (bladder), left upper quadrant view (spleen and left kidney), and cardiac/subxiphoid view (heart). An E-FAST, or extended FAST, includes the four standard FAST views plus bilateral views of the lungs to evaluate for pneumothorax. An abnormal FAST exam demonstrates the presence of free fluid on ultrasound. In the setting of trauma, free fluid is assumed to be blood. Free fluid on ultrasound appears black, or anechoic (indicated by yellow arrows in below image).

question of the day 5 trauma

The space between the liver and right kidney (“Morrison’s Pouch”) is often the first location or blood to accumulate in a patient with intra-abdominal bleeding. Trauma patients who are hemodynamically unstable with a positive FAST exam (this patient) should go to the operating room for emergent exploratory laparotomy (Choice C) to determine the source of their bleeding. Performing a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis (Choice A) would be the correct answer if the patient was hemodynamically stable and had a positive FAST exam. Allowing this patient to leave the emergency department for a CT scan would be dangerous as this patient could rapidly decompensate. Performing a Diagnostic Peritoneal Lavage (Choice B) would be the correct answer if the patient was hemodynamically stable but had a normal FAST exam. An emergent thoracotomy (Choice D) is more typically performed in patients with penetrating trauma who have cardiac arrest shortly before presenting to the emergency department. This intervention attempts to identify and treat any reversible causes of cardiac arrest. Correct Answer: C


Butler, M. (2015). “Boring question: What is the role of the FAST exam for blunt abdominal trauma?” Canadiem.

Franzen, D. (2016). “FAST examination”. SAEM.

Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #5," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, July 22, 2020,, date accessed: October 1, 2023

eFAST Course for Medical Students

Dear students,

We are pleased to open our second course for you; Extended Focused Assessment with Sonography for Trauma (eFAST).

As a part of our social responsibility initiative, will continue to provide free open online courses related to emergency medicine. We hope our courses help you to continue your education during these difficult times.

Please send us your feedback or requests about courses.

We are here to help you.

Best regards.

Arif Alper Cevik, MD, FEMAT, FIFEM

Arif Alper Cevik, MD, FEMAT, FIFEM

iEM Course is a social responsibility initiative of iEM Education Project

Extended Focused Assessment With Sonography In Trauma (eFAST) is one of the most commonly used emergency ultrasound or Point-Of-Care Ultrasound protocols. It is a protocol that we use in trauma patients. However, the eFAST examination can also be a part of another protocol, such as RUSH protocol.

The early diagnosis of a bleeding trauma patient is essential for better patient care. Unfortunately, it is proven that our physical exam findings are not perfect in every case. Therefore, using a bedside tool in addition to the physical examination can improve patient management.

As a 21st-century medical student/young physician, you must learn how to use this tool to provide more comprehensive and accurate care to your patients.

This course aims to provide the necessary information on ultrasonography, its use in a multiply injured trauma patient, and to prepare you for an eFAST practice session.

Cite this article as: Arif Alper Cevik, "eFAST Course for Medical Students," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, May 18, 2020,, date accessed: October 1, 2023

Medical students’ ultrasound training – SURVEY

There are many studies showing benefits of ultrasound training about understanding anatomy, pathologies and improving clinical decision making. Countries show different approaches to implementing ultrasound training at the medical school level. There are many obstacles such as staff, equipment, training manikins, dedicated time in curriculum design. International organizations are trying to find solutions for these obstacles and encouraging to implement ultrasound training into the medical school curriculum. Ultrasound can be a valuable diagnostic and procedural tool in many low resourced countries, especially where the CT scans and x-rays are not available. However, even in developed countries, medical students’ training on ultrasonography skills is still an infancy period.

We conducted a 1-minute survey to explore the global situation in order to understand current applications in medical schools. We hope you fill and share this survey with your professional contacts and students.

1 minute SURVEY