UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Neurology

Title: Stroke Associated with Aneurysm Coiling

Keywords: cerebral aneurysm, coiling, minimally invasive endovascular coiling, clipping, stroke, intracranial hemorrhage (PubMed Search)

Posted: 6/10/2009 by Aisha Liferidge, MD
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD

  • Patients who have recently undergone aneurysmal coiling commonly present to the ED with complaints of new or worsened focal neurologic deficits that may be suggestive of stroke.
  • Aneurysms can be stabilized by clipping or coiling them.  Coiling is performed in a minimally invasive manner, wherein platinum (a material that can be visualized radiographically and is flexible) coils are deployed into the bulb of the aneurysm, via femoral artery cannulation.
  • The relative risk of mortality or morbidity at one year post-coiling was found to be 22.6% less than that associated with clipping.  The latter is an older, more invasive technique requiring craniotomy and direct manipulation of the brain.
  • Hemorrhage is a less likely complication related to aneurysm coiling, thus your indication for a non-contrast Head CT in these patients would most appropriately be "rule out infarct" rather than "rule out bleed." 
  • Brain infarct is the more common complication of this treatment, and results from the accidental embolization of plaque during the coiling procedure.
  • Here are a couple of great links with illustrated overviews of the process of coiling, including a real time You Tube clip:


Transient Hypotension and Mortality in Sepsis

  • Not surprisingly, septic ED patients with persistent hypotension despite fluid resuscitation have increased mortality.
  • What about the more common scenario of septic ED patients who have a transient drop in their BP?
  • Recent evidence suggests that ED patients with sepsis who have non-sustained decrease in their BP (SBP < 100 mm Hg) have a 3-fold increased risk of in-hospital mortality compared with those who maintain arterial pressure.
  • Take Home Point: Any drop in BP in a septic patient, even if it responds to fluids, portends a higher mortality.  Be vigilant and aggressively resuscitate these patients.

Show References

Category: Medical Education

Title: Effective ED Teaching

Keywords: Teaching (PubMed Search)

Posted: 6/8/2009 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 10/16/2021)
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Some Pearls on ED Teaching:

  • Don't teach so much. Limiting the number of points taught will lead to increased retention. Quality, not quantity.
  • Make sure your learners are "with you." If the learner isn't attentive, forget it. Move and and return to teaching when the learner is ready. You are wasting your time if they are paying attention.
  • Be creative in adapting your teaching style when it is busy. You don't have to be at a dry erase board drawing metabolic pathways (sorry Fermin) to be teaching. Simply discussing your thought process outloud is a great way of teaching "on the fly."
  • Be flexible and remember: the focus should be on the learner (what they get out of it) and not the teacher. Many forget that when they teach in the ED.

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Category: Pediatrics

Title: Pediatric Drownings

Posted: 6/8/2009 by Rose Chasm, MD (Updated: 6/9/2009)
Click here to contact Rose Chasm, MD

  • Rates are highest for children <5yrs and between 15-24 yrs old.
  • Most of pathology is related to duration of asphyxia from time of submersion until adequate respiration is restored.
  • The brain and heart are most vulnerable to anoxic and ischemic injury.
  • Prognosis for near-drowning depends primarily on the degree of brain anoxia.
  • Prolonged submersion (>25 min); apnea or coma at presentation to ED; and initial arterial pH <7.0 are all poor prognostic indicators.
  • 96% of victims who require <10min of CPR survive with no or only mild neurologic impariment.

Show References

Category: Geriatrics

Title: syncope and PE in the elderly

Posted: 6/7/2009 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 10/16/2021)
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Whereas only 6% of young patients with PE present with syncope, 15-20% of elderly patients with PE present with syncope. The simple takeaway point is that whenever an elderly patient presents with syncope, always strongly consider the possibility of PE, even though they may lack classic pleuritic chest pain.
Count that respiratory rate for an inexpensive clue!



Category: Orthopedics

Title: Shoulder Dislocations -- Treatment

Keywords: shoulder, dislocation, treatment (PubMed Search)

Posted: 6/7/2009 by Michael Bond, MD (Updated: 10/16/2021)
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Shoulder Dislocations -- Treatment

  • Shoulder dislocations once reduced have typically been treated by placing the arm in a sling and swathe which holds the shoulder in adduction and internal rotation. 
  • However, several studies have now shown that placing the arm in a splint with the shoulder adducted and in 10 degrees external rotation helps to prevent recurrent shoulder dislocation. 
  • Patients should remain in the brace/split for 3 weeks.
  • External rotation is not recommended if there is an associated fracture.
  • Some commerical splints are now available to hold the shoulder in external rotation, however, you can make a small strut with plaster or fiberglass to achieve the same result.

Show References

Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)

  • Has low protein binding and does not inhibit CYP450 (resulting in a low incidence of drug interactions)
  • Requires dosage adjustment with creatinine clearance of < 30 ml/min
  • Does not require dosage adjustment in patients with liver failure or the elderly
  • Most common adverse effects are nausea and vomiting
  • Serious effects include anaphylaxis and skin reactions. Neuropsychiatric effects reported include hallucinations, delerium and abnormal behavior
  • It may be administered to infants and children due to the high potential morbidity associated with influenza


For complete indications and dosing:

Show References

Category: Neurology

Title: Dispositioning Syncope Patients

Keywords: syncope, loss of consciousness, disposition, san francisco syncope rule (PubMed Search)

Posted: 6/3/2009 by Aisha Liferidge, MD
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD

  • Syncope is defined as a transient loss of consciousness and accounts for an estimated 1% to 3% of emergency department (ED) visits.
  • While syncope typically is of benign origin, it occasionally signals significant mortality and morbidity, which can make determining the disposition of syncope patients a challenge.
  • The San Francisco Syncope Rule (96% sensitivity, 62% specificity) is a clinical tool used to determine which syncope patients are at low risk for a short-term (7-day) serious outcome (i.e. MI, arrhythmia, PE,  stroke, SAH, significant hemorrhage, any condition causing or likely to cause a return ED visit or hospitalization).
    Specifically, absence of all of the following 5 findings (acronym CHESS) were associated with no serious outcome within 7 days of the syncopal episode according to this rule:
    • Congestive heart failure
    • Hematocrit less than 30
    • EKG Abnormalities
    • Systolic BP less than 90
    • Shortness of breath
  • While this decision rule, in addition to one's clinical skill, may be used as a guide in caring for and dispositioning syncopal patients, know that its ability to be extrapolated to a general population of ED patients has yet to be validated.


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Category: Critical Care

Title: Arterial Catheters

Posted: 6/3/2009 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 10/16/2021)
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Heparin for Maintaining Arteral Catheter Patency ?

  • Arterial catheter placement is common in many critically ill ED patients.
  • Typically, a heparin solution is used in arterial catheters based on the belief that it helps to maintain catheter patency.
  • In one of the most recent studies (referenced below), the use of a heparinized solution did not improve the functionality, or increase the duration of patency, of arterial catheters when compared to a saline solution.
  • As the incidence of heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) continues to increase, it is worth noting that the routine use of heparin to maintain arterial catheter patency is not well supported by the literature.

Show References

Category: Misc

Title: elderly patients and dehydration

Keywords: geriatrics, elderly, pharmacology (PubMed Search)

Posted: 6/1/2009 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 10/16/2021)
Click here to contact Amal Mattu, MD

With few exceptions, always assume that elderly patients presenting to the ED with an acute illness are very dehydrated. Here are a few reasons why the elderly patient, even on a normal day, may be mildly dehydrated:
1. The elderly have been shown to have decreased total body water.
2. The elderly have a decreased thirst response.
3. The elderly have a decreased renal vasopressin response.

Given these issues, when an elderly patient develops a systemic illness (especially pulmonary process), they lose even more fluid via insensible losses. By the time they arrive in the ED, unless they are presenting because of overt pulmonary edema, they almost always will benefit from generous IV fluid administration.


Category: Orthopedics

Title: Nursemaid Elbow

Keywords: Nursemaid, Radial head, dislocation (PubMed Search)

Posted: 5/30/2009 by Michael Bond, MD
Click here to contact Michael Bond, MD

Nursemaid Elbow:

It is typically taught that the way to reduce a nursemaid's elbow is to hold the elbow at 90 degrees, then firmly supinate and flex the elbow. Place your thumb over the radial head and apply pressure as you supinate.(Taken from Sean Fox's Pearl on 7/20/2007)

However, there is a growing body of evidence that is showing that hyperpronating the forearm actually has a higher success rate on first attempt, is easier to perform, and is associated with less pain then supinating the forearm.  The overall reducation rates where similar for both methods.

The hyperpronation method consists of hyperpronating the forearm and then flexing the elbow.  Since the child tends to already hold their arm in partial pronation, the hyperpronation technique tends to need less force and has been associated with less pain.


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Category: Neurology

Title: Bell Palsy - Recognizing Sequelae

Keywords: bell palsy (PubMed Search)

Posted: 5/27/2009 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 10/16/2021)
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD

  • The majority of those afflicted with bell palsy experience neurapraxia or a local nerve conduction block, which usually predicts a prompt and full recovery.  80% to 90% of Bell Palsy patients experience recovery without any noticeable disfigurement within 6 weeks to 3 months.
  • Some Bell Palsy patients experience axonotmesis, disruption of the axons, which increases their risk of an incomplete recovery.
  • One is at higher risk of developing sequelae in the following scenarios: 

          --  Age greater than 60 years

          --  Diabetes

          --  Decreased taste or salivary flow on the affected side

          --  Complete paralysis

  • Common post-Bell Palsy sequelae that you may see clinically include:

          --  Synkinesis - abnormal contracture of facial muscles with smiling or

               closing eyes; may cause slight chin movement with blinking, eye closure

               with smiling, contracture around mouth with blinking.

          --  Crocodile tears - lacrimation while eating.

          --  Hemifacial muscle spasms - tonic contractures of affected side of face, 

               rare, often seen during times of fatigue, stress, or while sleeping.


Category: Critical Care


Posted: 5/26/2009 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 10/16/2021)
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NICE-SUGAR and Glucose Control in the Critically Ill

  • Hypergycemia is associated with increased morbidity and mortality in hetergeneous populations of critically ill patients.
  • Over the past few years there has been great interest in aggressively controlling glucose through the use of continuous insulin infusions.
  • Results of recent trials and meta-analyses, however, question the benefit of tight glucose control and highlight the marked increase in severe hypoglycemia rates.
  • Recently, the results of the NICE-SUGAR study were published, the largest trial to date (6000 patients)evaluating intensive vs. conventional glucose control in the critically ill.
  • Investigators found an INCREASED mortality among adults randomized to intensive glucose control
  • Given the lack of benefit, potential harm, risks of severe hypoglycemia, and resource utilization, intensive glucose control should not be a therapy routinely implemented in the ED.

Show References

Category: Vascular

Title: Transvenous pacing

Keywords: Transvenous pacing (PubMed Search)

Posted: 5/26/2009 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 10/16/2021)
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Transvenous pacing

We had a very interesting case the other day in the ED. A 60 yo male presented after a syncopal episode. After arriving in the ED he was awake (with a pulse of 50) but then became asystolic, without warning. He then woke up and 10 minutes later became asystolic again. He then woke up again. So, we decided to put in a transvenous pacer.

Some considerations when putting in a transvenous pacer:

  • You need to use a small cordis (e.g. 6 French)
  • Right IJ is the preferred approach so that when the balloon is inflated you will have easy entry into the right heart
  • You will need transvenous pacing wires, obviously.
  • Once you open the wire kit, you will find 2 adaptors that fit over the two ports of the pacemaker wire. Snap them on, then these connect to the ventricular leads of the pacer box-ignore the atrial side. Here is the key: the POSITIVE lead connects to the PROXIMAL port on the pacemaker (PROXIMAL=POSITIVE) and the distal lead connects to the distal port.
  • Turn the pacer on then set rate to 80 or so. And start the mAmp at 20.
  • Advance the wire through the Cordis and after the wire has cleared the Cordis, blow up the balloon with a syringe and lock it.
  • The key is in determining capture: While the patient is on the monitor, and as the wire is being slowly advanced, look for pacer spikes and the development of wide complexes. This indicates electrical capture. Be sure to check for mechanical capture by checking the patient's pulse.
  • After capture, the mAmps can be turned down to the capture point.
  • DON'T forget that transcutaneous pacing is clearly the first option as this is easy to initiate.


Category: Cardiology

Title: post-arrest care

Keywords: post-cardiac arrest care, early goal directed therapy (PubMed Search)

Posted: 5/24/2009 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 10/16/2021)
Click here to contact Amal Mattu, MD

Post-cardiac arrest care of patients is a hot topic in the resuscitation literature and is gaining increasing attention. We've discussed induced hypothermia; another important intervention is to apply the concepts of goal-directed therapy for these patients. The goal is to optimize MAP (> 65 mm Hg) and provide IVF and pressors when needed. Look for more literature on this in the coming year. Also, for more on this topic, be sure to listen to the June EM Cast, in which Dr. Evie Marcolini will be discussing post-cardiac arrest care of patients.

Category: Orthopedics

Title: Elbow Dislocations

Keywords: Elbow Dislocation (PubMed Search)

Posted: 5/23/2009 by Michael Bond, MD (Updated: 10/16/2021)
Click here to contact Michael Bond, MD

Elbow Dislocation

  • The elbow is the second most commonly dislocated joint after the shoulder in adults. 
  • It is the most commonly dislocated joint in children.
  • 90% of all elbow dislocation are posterior.  A considerable amount of force is required to dislocate the elbow so be highly suspicous for associated fractures of the radial head, or coronoid process of the ulna. 
  • The combination of a radial head fracture, coronoid process fracture and elbow dislocation is known as the terrible elbow.
  • Anterior elbow dislocations can be associated with injuries to the brachial artery, median and ulnar nerves. 

Quick clinical clues that the elbow is dislocated:

  • Posterior dislocation typically will have a prominent olecranon process, the arm is flexed at the elbow, and the forearm will appear shortened.
  • Anterior dislocation typically present with the arm in extension and the forearm will appear elongated.

Category: Neurology

Title: Bell Palsy - Recognition

Keywords: bell palsy, weakness, stroke, stroke mimic (PubMed Search)

Posted: 5/20/2009 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 10/16/2021)
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD

  • Bell Palsy is the most common cause of unilateral facial weakness.
  • It is caused by edema and ischemia causing compression of the facial nerve (cranial nerve seven).
  • While Bell Palsy is by definition an idiopathic facial palsy, the etiology is often infact discovered and attributed to conditions such as Lyme Disease, Herpes Simplex Virus, and HIV.
  • Classic symptoms of Bell Palsy include:

          -- acute onset of unilateral upper and lower facial paralysis (over 48 hr. period)

          -- posterior auricular pain

          -- decreased tearing

          -- hyperacusis (due to stapedius muscle weakness)

          -- taste disturbances

  • Bell Palsy is a diagnosis of exclusion.  If the facial paralysis is isolated to the lower face, if there is associated contralateral weakness, and/or if there is diplopia, a central cause for the symptoms, rather than Bell Palsy, must be strongly considered.

Category: Critical Care

Title: Platelet Transfusions

Posted: 5/18/2009 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 10/16/2021)
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Platelet Transfusions and the Critically Ill

  • Current literature suggests that platelets are given too frequently and inappropriately
  • Recall that approximately 50% of platelet transfusions fail to increase counts
  • In addition, bacterial contamination of units is a special concern, with sepsis occurring 10x more frequently than with PRBCs
  • In general, platelet transfusions in nonbleeding patients can be withheld untl the count reaches 10 x 103/mm3
  • A transfusion trigger of 50 x 103/mm3 should be used for invasive procedures

Category: Hematology/Oncology

Title: Multiple Myeloma + Altered Mental Status=Hyperviscosity Syndrome

Keywords: multiple myeloma, altered mental status, hyperviscosity syndrome (PubMed Search)

Posted: 5/18/2009 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 10/16/2021)
Click here to contact Rob Rogers, MD

Multiple Myeloma + Altered Mental Status=Hyperviscosity Syndrome

Although the differential diagnosis of altered mental status is quite extensive, a patient with multiple myeloma and altered mental status should prompt consideration of one important, albeit not too common, condition.....hyperviscosity syndrome.

Some important pearls:

  • This syndrome occurs when excessive amounts of protein (immunoglobulin) are secreted by myeloma (plasma) cells.
  • Excessive circulating protein leads to sludging and ischemia in lung and brain tissue, lesding to hypoxia and altered mental status, respectively.
  • You will only pick up this diagnosis by thinking about it, so multiple myeloma + altered mental status = hyperviscosity syndrome
  • Treatment is with IVF and plasmapheresis (heme onc consult)
  • And don't forget common stuff, like stroke, subdural hematomas, meningitis, etc.

Category: Cardiology

Title: Mimics of STEMI

Keywords: ST-segment elevation (PubMed Search)

Posted: 5/17/2009 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 10/16/2021)
Click here to contact Amal Mattu, MD

There are multiple causes of electrocardiographic ST-segment elevation which are well-known to mimic STEMI and often are a cause of misdiagnosis of STEMI.  These are:

  • Benign early repolarization
  • Pericarditis
  • Left ventricular aneurysm
  • Brugada syndrome
  • Left ventricular hypertrophy
  • Left bundle branch block
  • Paced rhythms
  • Hyperkalemia

Whenever there is doubt regarding whether you are dealing with a STEMI or a mimic, look for reciprocal ST-depression. Most of these will not produce ST-depression (LVH, LBBB, Pacers, and hyperkalemia WILL). The other key intervention is to perform serial ECGs and look for evolving changes, which strongly points to the presence of a true STEMI.