UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Neurology

Title: Guillain-Barre' Syndrome and Influenza

Keywords: guillain-barre' syndrome, influenzae vaccine, influenzae infection (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/4/2009 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 12/3/2022)
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD

  • Infections induce activated T cells and antibodies, which within the context of an influenza syndrome, are thought to cross react with axonal antigens and macrophages, resulting in demyelination.  This process likely triggers a subsequent Guillain-Barre’ syndrome (GBS).


  • Presumably, influenza vaccine induces a similar response in susceptible individuals.


  • Juurlink and colleagues found there to be a 1.45 relative risk, which equals a 1.7-fold adjusted relative risk for contracting GBS, associated with influenza vaccination.


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Hypoxemia in the Intubated Asthmatic

  • Intubating and mechanically ventilating the asthmatic patient can be frought with potential complications that markedly increase morbidity and mortality.
  • In the ventilated asthmatic who develops persistent or worsening hypoxemia, evaluate the patient for the following complications:
    • right main stem intubation
    • pneumothorax
    • ETT displacement
    • ETT obstruction
    • air leak around the ETT
    • gastric distention (decreases respiratory system compliance)
    • ventilator malfunction
    • progressive bronchospasm

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Category: Vascular

Title: Significance of New Onset Varicocele(s)

Keywords: Varicocele (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/2/2009 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 12/3/2022)
Click here to contact Rob Rogers, MD

A varicocele is a collection of venous varicosities in the spermatic veins in the scrotum. This is caused by imcomplete drainage for the pampiniform plexus. This may be seen is up 20% of males and is asymptomatic most of the time. Most are found on the left side.

Why should you care, you might ask? Well, the right spermatic vein drains into the IVC and then into the renal vein, whereas the left spermatic vein drain drains directly into the renal vein.

In the patient with new onset, unilateral varicocele, consider an IVC thrombus/tumor if right sided and a left renal clot if left sided.

A case we had recently was a 30 yo male with nephrotic syndrome (a HUGE risk factor for renal vein thrombosis) who presented with left-sided scrotal swelling. He was found to have a left-sided varicocele. Based on this finding, a renal sono was performed and the diagnosis of left renal vein thrombosis was made.


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Category: Cardiology

Title: hypothermia in the cath lab?

Keywords: hypothermia, cardiac arrest, percutaneous coronary intervention, myocardial infarction (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/1/2009 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 12/3/2022)
Click here to contact Amal Mattu, MD

Increasing literature has demonstrated that patients post-cardiac arrest benefit from induced hypothermia (IH). In addition, increasing literature has demonstrated that patients with cardiac arrest associated with STEMI are best treated with rapid percutaneous intervention (PCI) after their resuscitation. But what about the combination of IH + PCI in resuscitated cardiac arrest patients with STEMI?

There's now growing support for this concept as well. Wolfrum et al. demonstrated an improved mortality at 6 mos. (35% vs. 25%) in patients that had the combination of IH + PCI vs. patients receiving PCI alone after cardiac arrest and they also had better neurological outcomes.

Next time you have a STEMI patient that has a cardiac arrest who you resuscitate, talk to your cardiologists about the literature demonstrating the improved outcomes with combination IH plus PCI.

[Wolfrum S, Pierau C, Radke PW, et al. Mild therapeutic hypothermia in patients after out-of-hospital cardiac arrest due to acute ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction undergoing immediate percutaneous coronary intervention. Crit Care Med 2008;36:1780-1786.]


Category: Orthopedics

Title: Wound Irrigation

Keywords: Wound, Irrigation, Fibroblast (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/31/2009 by Michael Bond, MD (Updated: 12/3/2022)
Click here to contact Michael Bond, MD

Wound Irrigation

A recent article by Thomas et al showed that any concentration of betadiene and hydrogen peroxide used to irrigate a wound was  more toxic to fibroblasts (required for wound healing) then it was to bacteria.  Low concentrations of chlorhexidine remained bactericidial while having minimal affects on fibroblasts. 

WIth the addition of this study the routine practice of soaking a wound in betadiene or hydrogen peroxide should be abandoned.  Good irrigation with normal saline or even tap water is all that is really needed to decontaminiate a wound.  If a bactericidal agent is needed then low concentrations of chlorhexidine should be used.


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  • comprehensive history and thorough external genital exam (often without direct visualization of the cervix) will lead to appropriate diagnosis
  • estrogen withdrawal following birth or ingestion of oral contraceptives
  • vaginal foreign bodies (such as toilet paper, small toys)
  • bacterial infections (strep and shigella)
  • trauma from sexual abuse or straddle injuries
  • vascular lesions such as hemangiomas
  • be careful to differentiate urethral bleeding from vaginal bleeding

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Category: Toxicology

Title: Mysterious Poisoning

Keywords: sodium azide (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/29/2009 by Fermin Barrueto, MD (Updated: 12/3/2022)
Click here to contact Fermin Barrueto, MD

 Toxicology Expert: Poisoning Of Harvard University Scientists "No Accident"

  • 6 scientists in a Boston area lab drank coffee that was laced with sodium azide
  • Presented with hypotension, nausea and vomiting - one had a syncopal episode
  • Sodium Azide is a chemical compound (NaN3) that is used as a preservative at very low concentrations but in higher concentrations can be lethal. It is even found in the propellant that is found in automobile airbag mechanisms
  • It acts similiar to cyanide where it inhibits cytochrome oxidase and presents like a cyanide poisoning.
  • No antidote, cyanide antidote kit will not work

Category: Neurology

Title: Guillain Barre' Syndrome Associated with Influenza Vaccination

Keywords: guillain-barre' syndrome, guillain-barre, gbs, influenzae vaccine, vaccination, influenzae (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/28/2009 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 12/3/2022)
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD

  • In 1976, vaccination with the swine flu vaccine was associated with a small risk of developing Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS), approximately 1 additional case per 100,000 people who received the swine flu vaccine, which was slightly higher than the background rate for GBS.
  • Since then, numerous studies have been done to evaluate if other flu vaccines were associated with GBS. In most studies, no association was found, but two studies suggested that approximately 1 additional person out of 1 million vaccinated people may be at risk for GBS associated with the seasonal influenza vaccine.
  • It is important to keep in mind that severe illness and possible death can be associated with influenza, and that vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza infection and its complications.

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This week's pearl is courtesy of Dr. Evie Marcolini.  Thanks Evie!


Abdominal Compartment Syndrome in Burn Patients

  • Patients who receive > 250 ml/kg of fluid in the the 24 hours after burn injury will most likely require abdominal decompression.
  • In light of this, bladder pressure monitoring should be part of your practice in resuscitation of the patient with >30% TBSA burns.
  • The simple act of placing the bladder probe will increase awareness of the possibility of ACS and prompt measurement of abdominal compartment pressures. 
  • ACS can be treated with decompressive laparotomy, or in some cases, percutaneous abdominal decompression.

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Category: Geriatrics

Title: lab abnormalities with age

Keywords: geriatric, elderly, laboratory (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/25/2009 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 12/3/2022)
Click here to contact Amal Mattu, MD

A handful of lab abnormalities occur as a normal part of aging. Elderly patients will often demonstrate the following lab abnormalities without these indicating pathology:
1. ESR increases...use the following correction factor: top normal ESR < (age + 10)/2
2. creatinine falls
3. alkaline phosphatase may be elevated 2-3 fold
4. urinalysis may show asymptomatic pyuria or bacteriuria
5. ABGs demonstrate lower PaO2s and elevated A-a gradients
6. the top normal D-dimer level elevates slightly
7. the top normal BNP level elevates slightly
8. the ECG may show a first degree AV block, poor R-wave progression, leftward axis, and PVCs

Category: Orthopedics

Title: Winged Scapula

Keywords: winged scapula, trapezius, serratus anterior, long thoracic nerve (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/18/2009 by Dan Lemkin, MD, MS (Emailed: 10/24/2009) (Updated: 12/3/2022)
Click here to contact Dan Lemkin, MD, MS

Winged scapula is caused by muscular injury or damage to corresponding muscular innervation. Mechanism can be due to blunt or penetating thoracic trauma.

  • Trapezius muscle
    • Long thoracic nerve
  • Serratus Anterior muscle
    • Spinal Accessory Nerve

Clinical findings include

  • Protruding medial edge of the scapula
  • Exacerbation by pushing against resistance
  • Difficulty lifting arm over head


  • Initial splinting and orthopedic referral
  • Depending on mechanism - trial of physical therapy
  • Surgical treatments include fascial grafts or adjacent muscle attachment

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Category: Pediatrics

Title: Cyclic Vomiting

Posted: 10/23/2009 by Rose Chasm, MD (Updated: 12/3/2022)
Click here to contact Rose Chasm, MD

  • characterized by paroxysms of severe vomiting without apparent cause separated by periods of complete health
  • typically begins between 3 and 7 years of age
  • family or patient history of migraine or irritable bowel syndrome often noted
  • intentse vomiting with lethargy, fever, and headache preceding the onset of emesis
  • episodes last up to 48 hours (but may last up to one week) with 4-12 episodes per hour, and end suddenly often after sleep
  • two thirds of children become so dehydrated they require intravenous fluids
  • most patients have stereotypic patterns of onset and triggering events
  • rapid treatment with IVF and glucose, along with migraine treatments such as cyproheptadine, propanolol, and TCA's
  • antiemetics often not effective

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Category: Toxicology

Title: Relenza for the treatment of Tamiflu-resistant influenza

Keywords: Relenza, zanamivir, influenza, H1N1 (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/22/2009 by Bryan Hayes, PharmD (Updated: 12/3/2022)
Click here to contact Bryan Hayes, PharmD

Zanamivir (Relenza) is another neuraminidase inhibitor effective against influenza strains A and B. We are currently reserving its use for patients with H1N1 that may develop resistance to oseltamivir (Tamiflu) since it has been effective in these situations with past influenza strains.

  • Zanamivir is given by inhalation only (powder) and can therefore not be given to ventilated patients
  • Treatment dose is 10 mg (two blister packs) BID for 5 days
  • Prophylaxis is 10 mg (two blister packs) once daily for 10 days
  • Most common adverse effects are respiratory related and include bronchospasm and cough
  • Pregnancy category C (same as Tamiflu) and should be used in pregnant patients with suspected/confirmed H1N1 due to the increased risk of morbidity/mortality
    • In fact, zanamivir may be the preferable antiviral for pregnant women because of its limited systemic absorption

Category: Neurology

Title: Guillain-Barre' Syndrome

Keywords: guillain-barre' syndrome, guillain-barre, gbs, polyneuropathy, peripheral neuropathy (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/21/2009 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 12/3/2022)
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD


  • Guillain-Barre’ Syndrome (GBS) is a group of immune mediated processes characterized by motor, sensory, and autonomic dysfunction of peripheral nerves.

  • Classically, GBS is an acute inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (AIDP) consisting of progressive, symmetric, ascending muscle weakness and paralysis, associated with diminished deep tendon reflexes.
  • This rare condition, affecting 3,000 to 6,000 Americans annually (1 to 2 out of 100,00 per year), can lead to respiratory failure in severe cases, requiring vigilance in pro-actively administering mechanical ventilation as needed.

Category: Critical Care

Title: ECMO

Posted: 10/20/2009 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 12/3/2022)
Click here to contact Mike Winters, MD

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation

  • In last week's pearl pertaining to critically ill patients with H1N1, I mentioned the use of ECMO as a potentially life-sustaining treatment for refractory respiratory failure.
  • Essentially, ECMO removes blood from the patient and circulates it through an artificial lung with a pump.  For patients with respiratory failure, this is usually accomplished via cannulation of the femoral and internal jugular veins.
  • General guidelines to consider ECMO in severe, refractory respiratory failure include:
    • PaO2 / FiO2 ratio < 100 on 100% FiO2 or A-a gradient > 600 mm Hg
    • Age < 65 years
    • No known contraindication to anticoagulation
    • Lack of significant co-morbidities (due to prolonged recovery after weaning from ECMO)

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Got some interesting info today on the costs of some commonly used antihypertensive medications. Keep in mind that in patients with severe hypertension, your options of IV drips are limited.

Here is some info from our hospital:

Fenoldopam - $113.28
Nicardipine - $94.67
Esmolol - $82.15
Nitroprusside - $20.86
Labetalol - $14.40
Nitroglycerin - $2.90

Although Fenoldopam (Corlopam), which has been around for years, is more expensive than Nitroprusside, it is just as effective and without the side effects.

A new drug on the market that we don't have yet, Clevidipine, is just as effective as the big guns Nipride and Fenoldopam. Costs at this point are unknown.

More on antihypertensive medications next week....

Category: Geriatrics

Title: adverse drug effects

Keywords: adverse drug effects (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/18/2009 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 12/3/2022)
Click here to contact Amal Mattu, MD

It's no secret that the elderly are at high risk for adverse drug effects. The average elderly patient takes 5 prescribed medications plus two over-the-counter medications. As many as 5% of admissions in the elderly are attributable to adverse drug effects. 

Anytime you prescribe a new medication to an elderly patient, ALWAYS check for the possibility of drug interactions.

Category: Orthopedics

Title: Snuff Box Tenderness

Keywords: Scaphoid Fracture, CT (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/17/2009 by Michael Bond, MD (Updated: 12/3/2022)
Click here to contact Michael Bond, MD

Snuff Box Tenderness:

It has become the standard of care that individuals with snuff box tenderness, or pain with axial loading of the thumb, be placed in a thumb spica splint for 1-2 weeks until follow up x-rays can be done.  This is done to rule out an occult scaphoid fracture.  However, this practice can be hugely inconvenient to the patient and result in some atrophy of their forearm.

An alternative approach is to obtain a CT scan through the wrist to look specifically at the scaphoid bone.  If the CT scan is negative you can send them home with some pain control, RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) treatment and let them use thier thumb.  No splint is needed.  If it is positive then you can splint them and have them follow up with orthopedics or hand surgery.

Category: Toxicology

Title: Buprenorphine

Keywords: partial agonist, buprenorphine (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/15/2009 by Fermin Barrueto, MD
Click here to contact Fermin Barrueto, MD

This is a semi-synthetic opiate with partial agonist activity at the mu receptor. For an example of what a partial agonist is - see attached illustration. It is used in opioid addiction but is not as regulated as methadone clinics. Take a small course and you are licensed to prescribed it.  Primary caregivers are now able to administer buprenorphine to assist addicts though it is not recommended if the patient is requiring more than 40mg of methadone (rules out everyone in Baltimore).

The tablets (Suboxone) also contain naloxone to prevent intravenous injection which would induce withdrawal. Naloxone is not orally bioavailable and thus can be mixed into the pill.

Overdose is treated like any other opioid and naloxone should work.

Buprenorphine can illicit an opioid withdrawal response if the patient is currently on an opioid and then takes buprenorphine. 

Suppose to be safer than methadone - no QT prolongation and less respiratory depression


PartialAgonistBup.jpg (35 Kb)

Category: Neurology

Title: First Time Seizures in Pregnancy

Keywords: pregnancy, seizure, epilepsy, first time seizure (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/14/2009 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 12/3/2022)
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD

  • Pregnant patients presenting with their first seizure, should essentially be managed in the same way as any other adult patient (i.e. Is the source of the seizure due to a reversible systemic condition, and if not, is the patient at risk for recurrent unprovoked seizures; specialist follow-up arrangement).
  • Additional pregnancy-related conditions that can be associated with seizure, such as eclampsia and cerebral venous thrombosis, should be considered.
  • While the safety of all anti-epileptic drugs in pregnancy is questionable, the use of valproate (Depakote) should definitely be avoided, given its compelling association with fetal malformations.