Question Of The Day #81

question of the day
475.3 xray abdomen series normal chest
Which of the following is the most likely diagnosis for this patient’s condition?

Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea, is a common reason for patients to visit the Emergency Department.  Dyspnea is often caused by a pulmonary or cardiovascular condition, but it is important to remember that dyspnea can be due to endocrine conditions, toxicologic conditions, neurologic conditions, hematologic conditions, musculoskeletal conditions, and psychiatric conditions. 

The initial approach to all patients with shortness of breath involves the primary survey, or “ABCs” (Airway, Breathing, Circulation).  This first involves checking the patient for a patent airway.  A simple method to assess the airway is to ask the patient to speak and listen for the voice.  A muffled voice, the presence of stridor, hematemesis, or a lethargic patient are clues that a patent airway may not be present.  Problems with the airway, such as an obstructing foreign body, inflammation (i.e., epiglottitis, anaphylactic shock), or vocal cord dysfunction can certainly cause shortness of breath.  Endotracheal intubation may need to be performed before moving forward.  Breathing is assessed by evaluating the function of the lungs.  Steps include looking at how the patient is breathing (fast or slow), measurement of an SpO2 level, and auscultation of both lungs for wheezing, crackles, rhonchi, or distant or absent sounds.  A low oxygen level should be immediately addressed with supplemental oxygen before moving forward.  The patient’s breathing rate and lung sounds can be very helpful in discovering the diagnosis and guiding treatment.  Lastly, circulation should be assessed.  Check the heart rate, blood pressure, peripheral pulses, skin color and temperature, and evaluate for any sites of hemorrhage.  The presence of hypotension or tachycardia should be addressed appropriately based on the presumed cause.  After the primary assessment (“ABCs”) and initial treatment actions, a more detailed history and physical exam should be conducted. 

Pertinent causes of shortness of breath for the emergency practitioner to know are outlined in the chart below. 

 

 

Select Causes of Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea)

Pulmonary

 

Tension pneumothorax, pneumonia, empyema, pleural effusion, pulmonary edema, asthma, COPD

Cardiovascular

 

Acute coronary syndrome (i.e., STEMI), pulmonary embolism, cardiac tamponade, Decompensated Congestive Heart Failure (acute pulmonary edema)

Endocrine

 

Diabetic ketoacidosis (Kussmaul breathing)

Toxicologic

 

Salicylate overdose, or any ingestion that causes a severe metabolic acidosis

Neurologic

 

Intracranial hemorrhage, Stroke, Spinal cord injury, Guillain-Barre syndrome, Myasthenia Gravis crisis (myasthenic crisis)

Hematologic

 

Severe anemia (i.e., GI bleeding, trauma, miscarriage, post-partum hemorrhage, ruptured ectopic pregnancy)

Musculoskeletal

 

Rib fracture, flail chest

Psychiatric

 

Anxiety, Panic attack

Airway Problem

Foreign body, epiglottitis, anaphylactic shock (laryngeal swelling), expanding neck hematoma

This patient presents to the Emergency Department with 1 day of acute onset shortness of breath with pleuritic chest pain. Her exam shows tachycardia, tachypnea, a normal glucose level, and clear lungs bilaterally.  The chest X-ray provided shows no acute abnormalities.  Pneumothorax (Choice A) can present as acute onset shortness of breath with pleuritic chest pain, but the chest X-ray shows no signs of pneumothorax.  Diabetic Ketoacidosis (Choice B) can cause shortness of breath, and this patient has a history of diabetes.  However, the patient lacks other symptoms of this condition such as hyperglycemia (often glucose >250mg/dL (13.8mmol/L)), polydipsia, polyphagia, polyuria, or vomiting.  This makes DKA an unlikely diagnosis. Pneumonia (Choice D) is also unlikely as there is no fever, no cough, and no infiltrate seen on the chest X-ray provided.  Pulmonary Embolism (Choice C) is the most likely diagnosis and the correct answer.

The most common presenting symptom in pulmonary embolism (PE) is shortness of breath.  Other symptoms seen in PE include chest pain worsened by deep inspiration, unilateral leg swelling, hemoptysis, and fever.  Risk factors for PE include immobility, recent surgery or hospitalization, trauma, or hypercoagulable states (malignancy, estrogen use, Factor V Leiden mutation, antiphospholipid syndrome).  Common signs of PE on physical examination include tachycardia (common), fever (less common), and sometimes hypotension in a massive PE causing obstructive shock.  The gold standard for PE diagnosis is CT pulmonary angiography, but D-dimer blood testing, bedside ultrasound, and other tests can be useful in PE diagnosis.  The mainstay of treatment in PE is anticoagulation.  Unfractionated heparin and low molecular weight heparin are equally effective in PE.  Surgical treatment (embolectomy) and thrombolysis (alteplase) are other treatment options fo larger PEs.

References

Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #81," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, March 25, 2022, https://iem-student.org/2022/03/25/question-of-the-day-81/, date accessed: December 3, 2022

Question Of The Day #23

question of the day
qod23
3. PEA

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

This patient presented to the emergency department with acute pleuritic chest pain, dyspnea, and experienced a cardiac arrest prior to a detailed physical examination. The cardiac monitor shows a narrow complex sinus rhythm morphology. In the setting of a cardiac arrest and pulselessness, this cardiac rhythm is known as pulseless electric activity (PEA). PEA includes any cardiac rhythm that is not asystole, ventricular fibrillation, or pulseless ventricular tachycardia. The ACLS algorithm divides the management of patients with pulseless ventricular tachycardia (pVT) or ventricular fibrillation (VF) and patients with pulseless electric activity (PEA) or asystole. Assuming adequate staff and medical resources are present, patients with all of these rhythms receive high-quality CPR, IV epinephrine, and airway management. Patients with pVT or VF receive electrical cardioversion, while patients with PEA or asystole do not receive electrical cardioversion. Patients with PEA or asystole generally have a poorer prognosis than those with pVT or VF. Out of hospital cardiac arrests that present to the emergency department with PEA or asystole on initial rhythm have a survival rate of under 3%. The etiology of PEA in cardiac arrest includes a wide variety of causes. A traditional approach to remembering the reversible causes of PEA are the “Hs & Ts”. The list of the “Hs & Ts” along with their individual treatments are listed in the table below.

PEA treatments

Sodium bicarbonate (Choice A) would be the correct choice for a patient whose PEA arrest was caused by severe acidosis. This can occur in severe lactic acidosis (i.e. sepsis), diabetic ketoacidosis, certain toxic ingestions (i.e. iron, salicylates, tricyclic antidepressants), as well as other causes. Calcium gluconate (Choice B) would be the correct choice for a patient whose PEA arrest was caused by hyperkalemia. This can occur in renal failure, in the setting of certain medications, rhabdomyolysis (muscle tissue breakdown), and other causes. Blood products (Choice D) would be the correct choice for a patient whose PEA arrest was due to severe hemorrhage, such as gastrointestinal bleeding or in the setting of traumatic injuries. This patient has symptoms and risk factors for pulmonary embolism, including pleuritic chest pain, dyspnea, and a cancer history. These details make pulmonary embolism the most likely cause of PEA arrest in this scenario. The best treatment for this diagnosis would be thrombolysis (Choice C).

References

Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #23," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, December 4, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/12/04/question-of-the-day-23/, date accessed: December 3, 2022

Question Of The Day #17

question of the day
qod17

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 

References

Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #17," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, October 16, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/10/16/question-of-the-day-17/, date accessed: December 3, 2022

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Question Of The Day #16

question of the day
qod16

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

References

Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #16," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, October 9, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/10/09/question-of-the-day-16/, date accessed: December 3, 2022

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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
Hemoptysis+1
Malignancy w/ Treatment within 6 mo, or palliative+1
Interpretation
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 

References

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. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=2172&sectionid=165059275

Nickson, C. (2019). Pulmonary Embolism. Life in the Fastlane. Accessed on August 17, 2020. https://litfl.com/pulmonary-embolism/

Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #15," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, October 2, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/10/02/question-of-the-day-15/, date accessed: December 3, 2022

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A 19-year-old female presents with sharp right flank pain and shortness of breath

by Stacey Chamberlain

A 19-year-old female presents with sharp right flank pain and shortness of breath that started suddenly the day prior to arrival. The pain is worse with deep inspiration but not related to exertion and not relieved with ibuprofen. She denies anterior chest pain, cough, and fever. She denies leg pain or swelling and recent travel, immobilization, trauma, or surgery. She has no anterior abdominal pain, no dysuria or hematuria and no personal or family history of gallstones, kidney stones, or blood clots. She’s never had this pain before, has no significant past medical history and her only medication is birth control pills. On exam, her vital signs are within normal range, she has normal cardiac and pulmonary exams, no costovertebral angle tenderness, no chest wall or abdominal tenderness and no leg swelling.

Do you need to do any studies to evaluate this patient for a pulmonary embolism?

Pulmonary Embolism Rule-Out Criteria (PERC)

  • Age ≥ 50
  • Heart rate ≥ 100
  • O2 sat on room air < 95%
  • Prior history of venous thromboembolism
  • Trauma or surgery within 4 weeks
  • Hemoptysis
  • Exogenous estrogen
  • Unilateral leg swelling

The PERC CDR was originally derived and validated in 2004 and with a subsequent multi-study center validation in 2008. In the larger validation study, the rule was only to be applied in those patients with a pre-test probability of < 15%, therefore incorporating clinical gestalt prior to using the rule. PERC is a one-way rule, as mentioned above, which tried to identify patients who are so low-risk for pulmonary embolism (PE) as to not require any testing. It does not imply that testing should be done for patients who do not meet criteria, and it is not meant for risk stratification, as opposed to the Wells’ and Geneva scores.

Case Discussion

In order to apply the PERC CDR to the case study patient, the ED physician pre-supposes a pre-test probability of < 15%. If the ED physician has a higher pre-test probability than that, he/she should not use the PERC CDR. If the ED physician, in this case, did indeed have a pre-test probability of < 15%, the case study patient would fail the rule-out due to her use of oral contraceptives. In that case, the ED physician would need to determine if he/she would do further testing which could include a D-dimer, CT chest with contrast, ventilation/perfusion scan, or lower extremity Doppler studies to evaluate for deep vein thromboses (DVTs). The PERC CDR gives no guidance in this case.

Cite this article as: iEM Education Project Team, "A 19-year-old female presents with sharp right flank pain and shortness of breath," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, June 17, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/06/17/a-19-year-old-female-presents-with-sharp-right-flank-pain-and-shortness-of-breath/, date accessed: December 3, 2022

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In case you didn’t encounter shortness of breath today!

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