Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis in the ED

Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis in the ED

Case Presentation

A middle-aged man with a two days history of weakness in his legs. The patient works as a construction worker and is used to conducting heavy physical activity.

After a thorough history and examination, the weakness was reported in the lower extremities with a power of 2/5, whereas the power in upper extremities was 4.5/5, Achilles tendon reflex was reduced, plantar response and other reflexes were intact, with normal sensation. Rest of the examination is unremarkable.

The vitals are within normal ranges, Blood investigations include – Urea and electrolytes, liver and renal function, full blood count, thyroid function tests, creatine kinase, urine myoglobin, vitamin B12 and folic acid levels.

Potassium level was 1.7 mEq/L (normal 3.5-5.5), and all other parameters were within normal ranges.

The ECG showed inverted T waves and the presence of U waves. An Example of an ECG:

Hypokalemic periodic paralysis is a rare disorder that may be hereditary as the primary cause, or secondary due to thyroid disease, strenuous physical activity, a carbohydrate-rich meal and toxins. The patients are mostly of Asian origin.

The most common presentation is of symmetrical weakness in lower limbs, with a low potassium level and ECG changes of hypokalemia. The patients may have a history of similar weaknesses which may be several years old. An attack may be triggered by infections, stress, exercise and other stress-related factors.

The word ‘weakness’, can lead to physicians thinking about stroke, neurological deficits and other life-threatening illnesses such as spinal cord injuries associated with high morbidity and mortality which need to be ruled out in the ED.

In this case, history and examination are vital. Weakness in other parts of the body, a thorough neurological examination are important aspects.

Patients are monitored and treated with potassium supplements (oral/Intravenous) until the levels normalize. ECG monitoring is essential, as cardiac function may be affected. 

The patient should be examined to assess the strength and should be referred for further evaluation and to confirm the diagnosis.

The differential diagnosis for weakness in lower limb include :

  1. Spinal cord disease (https://iem-student.org/spine-injuries/)
  2. Guillain barre syndrome
  3. Toxic myositis
  4. Trauma
  5. Neuropathy
  6. Spinal cord tumour

References

Cite this article as: Sumaiya Hafiz, UAE, "Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis in the ED," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 7, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/09/07/hypokalemic-periodic-paralysis-in-the-ed/, date accessed: December 3, 2022

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, https://iem-student.org/2020/06/12/triads-in-medicine/, date accessed: December 3, 2022

Acute Ischemic Stroke Management in the ED – Part 1

Acute Ischemic Stroke Management

Your shift has just started, and you received a 56-year-old female patient, brought by her family due to a sudden loss of movement. The patient seems awake; you approach her, introduce yourself, and ask for her name. She does not understand. You ask her to look at you and to raise her arms, then you see: the left side of her body was paralyzed. In your head, a stroke sign lights up: you need to decide whether to activate the stroke protocol immediately or not, after all:

Time Is Brain

Important Hints

  • Know the protocols and references of your hospital and your region for acute stroke management. Your Emergency Department should be prepared to suspect of stroke in any patient presenting with acute neurological deficits and have a pre-established protocol for prioritizing care.

  • The prehospital service (EMS) should provide notification to the receiving hospital that a suspected stroke patient in the therapeutic window is en route and direct the patient to the closest hospital with thrombolytic support.

  • By AHA/ASA recommendations, door-to-needle time <60 minutes should be sought in more than 50% of patients treated with alteplase (tPA) (1)

Neurons are very sensitive to changes in brain flow and die within minutes in the absence of perfusion: thus the urgency in attempting rapid reperfusion. (2)

Do not delay the patient evaluation because the emergency department is overcrowded! Move the patient to a monitored bed as soon as possible.

While the patient is being monitored, continue your focused neurological examination quickly and accurately. Asking for the patient to lift and hold the arms, then the legs, tests sensitivity and strength. Then you should ask her to try to smile, assess the eye movement, pupils, search for nystagmus, and ask her to try to expose the tongue, assessing movement and understanding. You ask her simple questions: full name, date, where she is, point to a cell phone, a mug and a watch and ask if she recognizes them. At the same time, you evaluate strength, orientation and deficits.

VITAL SIGNS
Blood Pressure: 180/110 mmHg
Pulse: 125 bpm
SatO2%: 98
Respiratory Rate: 18 bpm

Do not forget to measure capillary GLUCOSE (135mg/dl). Important to rule out other causes of neurological symptoms that can mimic a stroke.

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is the first condition we evaluate for when the patient presents with acute neurological deficit, decreased level of consciousness, weakness, syncope, convulsion, etc. Hypoglycemia is defined by a blood glucose level less than 45 mg/dl. Symptoms improve rapidly as soon as corrected in most cases. However, it may take time for a complete improvement, and does not always rule out a stroke. (3)

Seizure

Seizure and post-ictal condition are also conditions that can mimic a stroke. Todd’s Paralysis is a focal weakness localized to one side of the body, which occurs around 13% of seizures. These deficits usually last up to 20 minutes but may last 48 hours. Unfortunately, seizures may present in the setting of acute stroke or patients with a stroke history due to neuronal damage. (3)

Stroke Mimics

Stroke mimics are common, accounting for 5% to 31% of patients with acute focal neurological deficit. (3) Diagnosis is not always simple, and abnormal eye movements, increased diastolic blood pressure greater than 90mmHg, and history of atrial fibrillation or angina are most commonly found in stroke. In the presence of decreased level of consciousness, cognitive dysfunction and normal eye movements are more common in stroke mimics.

Stroke Mimics

Condition

Misdiagnosed as stroke (%)

Brain tumor
7-15
Labyrinthitis
5-6
Metabolic disorder
3-13
Migraine
11-47
Psychiatric disorder
1-40
Seizures
11-40
Sepsis
14-17
Syncope
5-22
Transient global amnesia
3-10
Other
11-37

From Konrad CN, Crocco T, Biola J, Larrabee H. Is it stroke, or something else? The Journal of Family Practice. 2010 Jan; 59 (1): 26-31.

The time is ticking, and you must make critical decisions.

  • Is it a stroke? Or a disease with an acute neurological symptom that mimics a stroke?

  • I need a brain imaging study in less than 20 minutes. (2) Will I need to protect the patient's airway before, or should I go straight to the imaging exam?

  • What brain imaging study do I have and what should I do first? CT or MRI?

  • Is there an indication for IV alteplase? Should I do it in my unit, or should I referral the patient to another center?

  • Are there indications for mechanical thrombectomy? Should I do CT angiography at the same time?

Management of acute stroke will depend on:

  • The support you have.
  • Time of onset of the stroke, that is, duration of symptoms.
  • The severity of symptoms:
    • Physical examination: NIHSS, etc.
    • Signs of a large vessel stroke
    • Area of irreversible ischemia “core” versus penumbra area, salvageable area
  • The desire of the patient/family after being informed of the risks/benefits.

Clinical History

The clinical history must be acquired quickly and directly. Essential points: time of symptoms, associated symptoms, comorbidities, and medications of continuous use.

It is important to note that the time of the symptom is counted from the last time the patient was seen without symptoms and not when someone noticed the deficit. (1) If the patient woke up with the deficit, time counts from when he/she was seen without symptoms (e.g., the day before bedtime).

Laboratory, Imaging, Management

Unnecessary tests should not delay brain imaging. It should be performed within 20 minutes of the patient’s arrival at the hospital!

If you do not have a CT scanner in your hospital, the patient should be referred for a center that has one, preferably with a stroke unit. In this situation, physical examination and accurate data of the clinical history must be passed to the place of reference. A physician should accompany the patient.

Treatment of blood pressure only if BP> 220 x 110mmHg, preferably with easy-to-control intravenous medication (labetalol, nicardipine, sodium nitroprusside, etc.). Avoid oral medications due to bronchospasm risk and unpredictable effect. Not having intravenous options, I would consider tolerating hypertension until the diagnosis is confirmed.

Venous access with the collection of samples such as complete blood count, electrolytes, renal function, TAP, APTT, troponin, and more as needed, according to patient comorbidities and medications.

Do not delay the brain image waiting for the collection of laboratory tests. Do not delay imaging or therapy with tPA expecting laboratory test results, unless it is essential.

Venous access before the examination is essential if there is a decision to perform CT angiography of cervical and intracranial vessels in the possibility of mechanical thrombectomy. However, performing CTA should not delay the performance of chemical thrombolysis if indicated. That is, the radiology sector should be prepared to perform immediately after CT if indicated.

Which imaging test is the best? and Why?

MRI

Weighted MRI diffusion shows a greater positivity than CT in the first 24 hours for ischemic stroke, especially in the vertebrobasilar territory. However, its role in ED is still limited because of its uncertain accuracy for the diagnosis of acute hemorrhage, low immediate availability, patient contraindications (not cooperating, claustrophobia, metal implants, pacemaker, etc.) and cost-effectiveness.

CT

CT without contrast, is relatively accessible in most reference centers. It discards other causes of neurological deficit such as ICH, abscess, brain tumor, etc. It may not diagnose acute stroke. But together with a compatible clinical story, it is the only necessary brain image for performing IV alteplase. (2)

Every patient with acute neurological deficit, independent of time, must perform a brain imaging, mainly to rule out other causes, such as ICH, which completely changes the treatment.

All patients with acute neurological deficits, mainly without a diagnosis, must be accompanied by a physician assistant during transfer to imaging, due to the risk of abrupt change/worsening of the clinical status.

It is important to have communication between the ED areas, to warn the radiology department in advance that the patient is on the way, and that the exam should be prioritized. (2)

You accompany the patient during the CT scan. And this is her exam:

Do the best you can, ask for help when in doubt, study and care with love.

To Be Continued.

References and Further Reading

  1. Tintinalli, Judith E.,, et al. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. Eighth edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2016.
  2. William J. Powers et al. 2018 Guidelines for the Early Management of Patients With Acute Ischemic Stroke. AHA/ASA Guideline. 2018 Mar;49(3):e46-e110. doi: 10.1161/STR.0000000000000158. Epub 2018 Jan 24.
  3. Brit Long, MD, Stroke Mimics: Pearls and Pitfalls, http://www.emdocs.net/stroke-mimics-pearls-and-pitfalls/ em 07/05/2019
Cite this article as: Jule Santos, Brasil, "Acute Ischemic Stroke Management in the ED – Part 1," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, August 9, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/08/09/acute-ischemic-stroke-management-in-the-ed-part-1/, date accessed: December 3, 2022

AMS and right side weakness

In case you didn’t encounter acute altered mental status and right side weakness today!

690.1 - Figure 6a. CT - Left basal ganglia infarct

iEM Education Project Team uploads many clinical picture and videos to the Flickr and YouTube. These images are free to use in education. You can also support this global EM education initiative by providing your resources. Sharing is caring!

Acute Ischemic Stroke chapter is just added

692.4 -  Left parietooccipital cortex subcortical white matter infarct

Acute Ischemic Stroke chapter written by Fatih Büyükcam from Turkey is just uploaded to the Website!