Seizure: Lethal Dissection

Lethal Dissection Seizure

Case Presentation

A 49-year old female without any co-morbidities presented to the emergency department (ED) with seizures. On arrival, she was in a postictal state.

She had recently visited a local hospital with complaints of severe dysmenorrhea and low back pain. The attenders informed us that she was very sleepy and weak at that time, was treated for pain and given tranexamic acid, and sent home. The next day, she had one episode of Generalized Tonic-Clonic Seizure, and she arrived in our ED in a postictal phase. She vomited twice in the ED.

Her vitals were as follows: 

  • Blood pressure (BP): 160/100 mmHg.
  • Heart rate (HR): 22/min
  • Peripheral capillary oxygen saturation (SPO2): 98% on room air
  • General Random Blood Sugar (GRBS): 233 mg/dl
  • Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS): E2V5M6

Her examination was as follows:

  • The patient was drowsy but arousable. 
  • Pupils bilateral reacting to light. No anisocoria.
  • CNS examination could not be completed as the patient was drowsy.
  • A normal pattern of breathing. The respiratory examination was normal.
  • The abdomen was soft, symmetric, and non-tender without distention.

Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) showed a flap in the abdominal aorta. (See Figure 1 and 2 for transverse and longitudinal views of the aorta, respectively) Upon this finding, cardiac surgery and neurology consultations were sought.

Transverse section of the abdominal aorta showing a flap.

Image shows transverse section of the abdominal aorta showing a flap.

Abdominal aorta showing a flap

Image shows abdominal aorta showing a flap.

The laboratory results were as follows:

  • D-dimer: 1192 ng/ml
  • Haemoglobin (Hb): 10 g/dl
  • The international normalized ratio (INR): 1.25
  • Platelets: 260000 per mcL
  • Total leucocyte count (TLC): 22000 cells/mm3
  • Creatinine :1.6 mg/dl.

Meanwhile, the patient was suffering multiple seizure-like episodes, characterized by staring, deviation of the mouth, and irregular limb movements, but these episodes lasted for few minutes and ended without the postictal phase. The patient was drowsy but obeyed commands and did not have any recollection of those few minutes.

Head computed tomography (CT) showed no infarct or bleeding. It was normal.

CT angiogram and aortogram revealed that the patient had Stanford Type A aortic dissection with the flap extending to the entire left subclavian artery, with severely occluding filling defects and thrombosis of the false lumen into bilateral common carotid arteries (See Figure 3, 4 and 5). On the other end, the dissection extended to the common iliac arteries (See Figure 6).

CT Aortogram showing bilateral common carotid artery filling defects

Image shows CT Aortogram showing bilateral common carotid artery filling defects

And on the other loose of the string the dissection was extending till the common iliac arteries.
Ascending and descending aortic dissection

Image shows ascending and descending aortic dissection

Dissection of the common iliac artery before bifurcation

Image shows dissection of the common iliac artery before bifurcation.



Initially, the patient was treated symptomatically by anti-epileptics and analgesics. After the cardio-thoracic and vascular surgeon consultations, we decided to airlift the patient to a higher centre as our hospital was tertiary care and there were no grafts for the urgent repair of the extensive aortic dissection. We intubated the patient for secure transportation. However, we learned that the patient expired in the higher centre before reaching the operating room.


Before I shed light on the important part of this discussion, I know that the outcome of this case was unfortunately grave. However, I chose this case because of it.

In this case, the patient had low back pain in her previous hospital visit. However, she was sent home with symptomatic management, implying that it could have been addressed more carefully. She visited our ED one day later, and POCUS let us diagnose the dissection in 15 minutes, which was confirmed by a CT aortogram within 40 minutes. After consultations and finding the available facility, we airlifted the patient to a higher centre for urgent repair, but the patient could not make it to the operating room.     

We all know acute aortic dissection is the most common life-threatening disorder affecting the aorta. Over the first several hours, the mortality rate increase up to 1% per hour; therefore, early intervention is critical (1). In our case, the involvement of bilateral carotid arteries caused seizure-like episodes and altered mental status. Also, studies show that patients with similarly located dissections may experience neck pain, transient ischemic attacks (TIA), cerebral ischemia, transient monocular blindness and subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) but not seizure(2). In our case, the global hypo-perfusion caused recurrent TIAs, which resembled seizure-like clinical episodes. That’s why emergency physicians should be vigilant about the underlying causes of seizure-like activities, even if altered mental status similar to postictal state is present, especially if the patient does not have a history of seizures and the complaints are unclear. Keep the aortic dissection in mind as a differential. Also, I cannot stress the use of POCUS in the ED enough. It is a game-changer, and in our case, it detected a lethal disease successfully.

Learning Points

  1. Never ignore back pain that does not subside after adequate pain management.
  2. POCUS is always a game-changer. It saves a lot of time and lives, as in my case.
  3. Seizures or not, you must keep a high suspicion for lethal vascular diseases. Remember the basics: If unclear, go back to history.
  4. Once you confirm an aortic dissection, never delay treatment because time = life.
  5. Never ever send a patient back home unless you are completely sure about the cause of the presenting symptom. Over investigating is ok when compared to under investigating, when it might cost a life.

References and Further Reading

  1. Braverman AC. Acute aortic dissection: clinician update. Circulation. 2010;122(2):184-188. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.110.958975
  2. Debette S, Grond-Ginsbach C, Bodenant M, et al. Differential features of carotid and vertebral artery dissections: the CADISP study. Neurology. 2011;77(12):1174-1181. doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e31822f03fc
Cite this article as: Naveen Paila, India, "Seizure: Lethal Dissection," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, November 15, 2021,, date accessed: December 11, 2023

Question Of The Day #3

question of the day
question of the day 3

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

Choice A (IV 1,000mL of 0.9% NaCl) is an isotonic crystalloid fluid helpful in a patient with depleted intravascular volume (i.e., dehydration). This patient is clinically dehydrated (dry oral mucosa and mild tachycardia); however, hypertonic 3% NaCl is a more appropriate initial treatment. Choice B (IV 50mL of 25g dextrose solution, or commonly known as “D50”) is an appropriate treatment for a patient with hypoglycemia. Checking a glucose level is a crucial part of the initial assessment of all patients with altered mental status, but this patient has a reported normal glucose level. Choice D (IV 40mg Furosemide) is a diuretic that would worsen this patient’s dehydration and acute kidney injury. This patient has severe hyponatremia along with neurological symptoms (coma and seizure). Hyponatremia plus neurologic symptoms, like vomiting, seizures, reduced consciousness, cardiorespiratory arrest, necessitate rapid correction of sodium with hypertonic (3%) NaCl solution. 3% NaCl solution can be infused 100-150mL over 15-20min and repeated up to 3 doses total. A serum sodium level should be measured after each administration of 3% NaCl in order to limit the increase in the sodium level to no more than 8-12 mEq/L over the first 24hours. This is done to reduce the risk of osmotic demyelination syndrome. Correct Answer: C


Petrino R, Marino R. Fluids and Electrolytes. “Chapter 17: Fluids and Electrolytes”. In: Tintinalli JE, Ma O, Yealy DM, Meckler GD, Stapczynski J, Cline DM, Thomas SH. eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 9th ed. McGraw-Hill.

Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #3," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, July 8, 2020,, date accessed: December 11, 2023

Triads in Medicine – Rapid Review for Medical Students

triads in medicine

One of the most convenient ways of learning and remembering the main components of disease and identifying a medical condition on an exam are Triads, and medical students/interns/residents swear by them.

Be it a question during rounds, a multiple-choice exam question to be solved, or even in medical practice, the famous triads help physicians recall important characteristics and clinical features of a disease or treatment in an instant.

Since exam season is here, this could serve as a rapid review to recall the most common medical conditions.

While there are a vast number of triads/pentads available online, I have listed the most important (high-yy) ones that every student would be asked about at least once in the duration of their course.

1) Lethal Triad also known as The Trauma Triad of Death
Hypothermia + Coagulopathy + Metabolic Acidosis

2) Beck’s Triad of Cardiac Tamponade
Muffled heart sounds + Distended neck veins + Hypotension

3) Virchow’s Triad – Venous Thrombosis
Hypercoagulability + stasis + endothelial damage

4) Charcot’s Triad – Ascending Cholangitis
Fever with rigors + Right upper quadrant pain + Jaundice

5) Cushing’s Triad – Raised Intracranial Pressure
Bradycardia + Irregular respiration + Hypertension

6) Triad of Ruptured Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
Severe Abdominal/Back Pain + Hypotension + Pulsatile Abdominal mass

7) Reactive Arthritis
Can’t See (Conjunctivitis) + Can’t Pee (Urethritis) + Can’t Climb a Tree (Arthritis)

8) Triad of Opioid Overdose
Pinpoint pupils + Respiratory Depression + CNS Depression

9) Hakims Triad – Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
Gait Disturbance + Dementia + Urinary Incontinence

10) Horner’s Syndrome Triad
Ptosis + Miosis + Anydrosis

11) Mackler’s Triad – Oesophageal Perforation (Boerhaave Syndrome)
Vomiting + Lower Thoracic Pain + Subcutaneous Emphysema

12) Pheochromocytoma
Palpitations + Headache + Perspiration (Diaphoresis)

13) Leriche Syndrome
Buttock claudication + Impotence + Symmetrical Atrophy of bilateral lower extremities

14) Rigler’s Triad – Gallstone ileus
Gallstones + Pneumobilia + Small bowel obstruction

15) Whipple’s Triad – Insulinoma
Hypoglycemic attack + Low glucose + Resolving of the attack on glucose administration

16) Meniere’s Disease
Tinnitus + Vertigo + Hearing loss

17) Wernicke’s Encephalopathy- Thiamine Deficiency
Confusion + Ophthalmoplegia + Ataxia

18) Unhappy Triad – Knee Injury
Injury to Anterior Cruciate Ligament + Medial collateral ligament + Medial or Lateral Meniscus

19) Henoch Schonlein Purpura
Purpura + Abdominal pain + Joint pain

20) Meigs Syndrome
Benign ovarian tumor + pleural effusion + ascites

21) Felty’s Syndrome
Rheumatoid Arthritis + Splenomegaly + Neutropenia

22) Cauda Equina Syndrome
Low back pain + Bowel/Bladder Dysfunction + Saddle Anesthesia

23) Meningitis
Fever + Headache + Neck Stiffness

24) Wolf Parkinson White Syndrome
Delta Waves + Short PR Interval + Wide QRS Complex

25) Neurogenic Shock
Bradycardia + Hypotension + Hypothermia

Further Reading

Cite this article as: Sumaiya Hafiz, UAE, "Triads in Medicine – Rapid Review for Medical Students," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, June 12, 2020,, date accessed: December 11, 2023

Management of Status Epilepticus in ER

References and Further Reading

  1. Glauser T, Shinnar S, Gloss D, et al. Evidence-Based Guideline: Treatment of Convulsive Status Epilepticus in Children and Adults: Report of the Guideline Committee of the American Epilepsy Society. Epilepsy Curr. 2016;16(1):48–61. doi:10.5698/1535-7597-16.1.48
  2. Joshua G. Kornegay.  Chapter 171. Seizures. In: Tintinalli JE, ed. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine A Comprehensive Study Guide. 8th Edition. McGraw-Hill Education; 2016: 1176-1178
  3. Rabin E, Jagoda AS. Chapter 92. Seizures. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill  M, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th Edition. Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders; 2018: 1256-1264
  4. Sharma AN, Hoffman RJ. Toxin-related seizures. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2011;29(1):125–139. doi:10.1016/j.emc.2010.08.011


Cite this article as: Neha Hudlikar, UAE, "Management of Status Epilepticus in ER," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, June 1, 2020,, date accessed: December 11, 2023

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; .§ionid=162271372. Accessed May 12, 2019.



  4. John J Millichap. Clinical features and evaluation of febrile seizures. Mar 25, 2019.

Cite this article as: Henrique Puls, Brasil, "Febrile Seizures," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 9, 2019,, date accessed: December 11, 2023

A tongue bite after seizure

771 - new onset seizure - tong bite

A young man presented after a new onset seizure.

The image/video archive reached to 75K views, and we just added 52 new clinical images today. You can search, find the image you want and use them in your exams, presentations freely. Here is the link of the archive.

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651.1 - ICH

Intracranial Hemorrhage chapter written by Nur-Ain Nadir and Matthew Smetana from USA is just uploaded to the Website!

Approach to Seizure

Seizure chapter written by Feriyde Caliskan Tur from Turkey is just uploaded to the Website!