Complete Blood Count
4.0 – 10.5 X 103/mL
13.0 – 18.0 g/dL
39.0 – 54.0 %
140 – 415 x 103/mL
Which of the following is the most appropriate next step in management for this patient’s condition?
This patient arrives to the Emergency Department with bright red bloody stools in the setting of warfarin use. His exam shows hypotension and tachycardia. The laboratory results show a low hemoglobin and hematocrit, but no INR or other coagulation studies are provided. This patient is in hemorrhagic shock due to a lower gastrointestinal bleed. This patient’s condition may be due to coagulopathy from his warfarin (i.e., supratherapeutic INR), diverticulosis, or other conditions. Initial management of this unstable patient should include management of the airway, breathing, and circulation (“ABCs”). This includes aggressive and prompt treatment of the patient’s hypotension and tachycardia and reversal of the patient’s anticoagulation. Please refer to the chart below for a list of causes of GI bleeding, GI bleeding signs and symptoms, and the initial Emergency Department treatment of GI bleeding.
This patient’s platelet level is just below the lower limit of normal, so administration of a platelet transfusion (Choice A) would not be the next best step. Platelet administration should be considered if the platelet count is below 50,000-100,000, or if a massive transfusion protocol is initiated to prevent coagulopathy. No INR value is provided in the question stem, but prompt reversal of warfarin should not be delayed for an INR level (Choice D). Reversal of warfarin should be promptly initiated when a patient is unstable (i.e., hypotensive GI bleed, traumatic wound hemorrhage, intracranial bleed, etc.). Medication reversal in these settings includes both IV Vitamin K 10mg and IV Fresh Frozen Plasma 10-20cc/kg. IV Vitamin K helps reverse the Vitamin K antagonistic effect of Warfarin, but it does not acutely provide new Vitamin K-dependent coagulation factors (Factors X, V, II, VII). IV Vitamin K gives the liver the ‘materials’ needed to regenerate these coagulation factors, but this process takes time. Fresh frozen plasma contains ‘ready-to-use’ coagulation factors that will help control the hemorrhage acutely. For this reason, both Vitamin K and FFP are given together in an unstable patient. An alternative to fresh frozen plasma (FFP) is prothrombin complex concentrate (PCC), which is a concentrated version of coagulation factors. PCC is not broadly available in all countries, and is generally more expensive than FFP.
The management of stable patients with a supratherapeutic INR includes holding warfarin doses and sometimes providing PO Vitamin K, depending on the INR level. Administration of IV Vitamin K only (Choice C) is not the correct treatment in this scenario. IV Vitamin K and IV Fresh Frozen Plasma (Choice B) is the best next step to reverse this patient’s anticoagulant.
- Carrol M, Mudan G, & Bentley S. Gastrointestinal bleeding. International Emergency Medicine Education Project. https://iem-student.org/gi-bleeding/
- Farkas J. (2019). Anticoagulant reversal. EMCRIT: The Internet Book of Critical Care. https://emcrit.org/ibcc/reverse/
- Thomas L & Thompson L. (2019). GI bleed. Society of Academic Emergency Medicine. https://www.saem.org/about-saem/academies-interest-groups-affiliates2/cdem/for-students/online-education/m4-curriculum/group-m4-approach-to/gi-bleed
White K (2017). EM@3AM: GI bleed. emDocs. http://www.emdocs.net/em3am-gi-bleed/