UMEM Educational Pearls

What Hypertensive Patient Needs a Workup for End-Organ Damage?

Ah, the age old question...which hypertensive patients need an ED workup for end-organ damage? The "workup" for patients includes renal function, urinalysis, CXR, ECG, etc.

Some pearls regarding working patients up: 

  1. Asymptomatic patients in general do not need a workup. There is pretty good literature that shows you just won't find much (expecially anything that will change your treatment plan) if you go hunting in this group of patients.
  2. If you set asymptomatic patients aside, you won't find much good data on how much of a workup other patients need. Does a 45 yo patient with a BP of 160/110 and a mild HA need a serum creatinine? What if they have had some mild, atypical CP? The answer one knows. Much of what we we do depends on what we were taught and our current mood. 
  3. Asymptomatic patients (truly asymptomatic) don't need chest xrays and ECGs as a rule of thumb...what you find won't help you make a decision. If you find LVH on the ECG, so what? 
  4. Obtaining a serum creatinine makes sense, especially of you are going to start a BP agent. 
  5. There is a pretty good study by Karas, et al. that showed that a urinalysis without protein or blood predicts a normal creatinine. Use caution, however, if you use this as a screen for renal disease, because many patients with HTN spill protein (despite a normal creatinine)

Third Trimester Bleeding:

  • Estimated to occur in 4% of Pregnancy
  • 50% will have a benign cause, the other 50% will have a life threatening cause
  • Life Threatening Causes:
    • Placenta Abruption
    • Placenta Previa
    • Uterine Rupture
    • Vasa Previa (fetal vessels crossing or running in close proximity to the inner cervical os.
  • Benign or Non-OB Causes
    • Contact Bleeding (local trauma)
    • Cervical Inflammation (i.e. infection)
    • Cervical effacement and dilation
    • Cervical cancer
    • Other sites:
      • rectal bleeding
      • urinary bleeding
  • Evaluation:
    • ABC's: Stablilize mother, consider 2 large bore IVs
    • Consult OB/GYN early (most centers with OB/Gyn will have these patients evaluate and treated in Labor and Delivery), if not readily available complete evaluation as listed below:
    • Initially avoid bimanual exam
    • Obtain baseline labs (CBC, Coags, Chemistries, Consider LFTs if suspecting eclampsia or HELLP syndromes). If not known obtain Rh status
    • Fetal Monitioring ideally with continous fetal heart rate and tocometry
    • Sterile Speculum exam for culture and check for active bleeding.
    • Obtain ultrasound.



Category: Cardiology

Title: AMI, AMS, and elderly

Keywords: myocardial infarction, delirium, confusion (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/23/2008 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Amal Mattu, MD

Have you seen any elderly patients with altered mental status (AMS) lately? How quickly did you get an ECG on those patients? Elderly patients often present with mental status changes when they develop cardiac ischemia or acute MI, and this is especially common in the oldest of the elder group. Up to one-quarter of patients > 85 yo with myocardial infarction will present to the ED with delirium or confusion. Get the ECG early on these patients...remember, time is muscle! The delay can be deadly.

Category: Toxicology

Title: Bupivacaine

Keywords: cardiotoxicity, marcaine, bupivacaine (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/20/2008 by Fermin Barrueto, MD (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Fermin Barrueto, MD

Local Anesthetic - Bupivacaine (Marcaine) - Sodium channel blocker with duration of action 2-4 hrs (w/epi 3-7 hrs) - Toxic dose is > 2.5 mg/kg or > 175 mg total dose (Infiltrating into SQ) - Bupivacaine 0.25% = 2.5 mg/mL - Inadvertent intravenous injection can result in toxicity - Lethally cardiotoxic with widened QRS, V-tach and neurotoxic with inebriation and seizures - Anesthesia literature reports successful use of Intralipid as an antidote

Category: Neurology

Title: Phenytoin (Dilantin) Administration

Keywords: phenytoin, dilantin, seizure (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/19/2008 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD

  • Phenytoin (Dilantin) should not be infused at a rate greater than 50 mg/minute, to a total of 20 mg/kg.
  • Caution is encouraged while infusing due to the risk of inducing hypotension and cardiac arrhythmias, making cardiac monitoring during infusion mandatory.
  • These adverse effects are partly related to the propylene glycol used to solubilize phenytoin.
  • Additionally, the risk of local pain and injury, such as venous thrombosis and the purple glove syndrome, increases with rapid infusion rates.

Category: Critical Care

Title: Dopamine

Keywords: dopamine, hemodynamic medication, vasopressors (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/18/2008 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Mike Winters, MD

Dopamine in the ED

  • Recall that dopamine is an endogenous catecholamine that is a precursor for norepinephrine synthesis
  • Despite the popularity of norepinephrine, dopamine is still used by many EPs in the setting of septic shock
  • Dopamine produces progressive alpha-receptor stimulation at doses > 10 mcg/kg/min
  • Tachyarrhythmias (namely sinus tachycardia) is the predominant adverse effect
  • When selecting a vasopressor agent, be sure to check the HR.  If the patient is already tachycardic, the addition of dopamine will only worsen the tachycardia
  • Additional important adverse effects are increased intraocular pressure and delayed gastric emptying

Show References

Category: Infectious Disease

Title: Healthcare Associated Pneumonia

Keywords: Pneumonia (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/18/2008 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Rob Rogers, MD

Healthcare Associated Pneumonia (HCAP)....why is this important for the emergency physician?

Most of us are very familiar with the types of pneumonias commonly seen in clinical practice: community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), hospital-acquired pneumonia(HAP), and ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP). But, some may not be that aware of a relatively newer type of pneumonia that has been well-defined, healthcare-associated pnemonia (HCAP). Experts in infectious disease and critical care now say that we (the ED) should be assessing ALL pneumonia patients for HCAP risk factors.

Why care, you ask?

  • Higher mortality than CAP
  • May look like CAP
  • Treated much differently than CAP

Risk factors: (most are common sense)

  • Nursing home or extended care facility resident
  • Recently admiited to a hospital for 2 or more days in the preceeding 90 days
  • Home wound care or attending a clinic for wound care
  • Dialysis patient
  • Home infusion therapy (antibiotics)
  • Immunosuppresive therapy or disease


  • 3 drugs....not like treatment of CAP!
  • Usually a combination of a big gun anti-pseudomonal (e.g. Pip/Tazo) combined with a broad spectrum respiratory fluoroquinolone (e.g. Moxi), combined with Vancomycin
  • Key difference between treatment of CAP and HCAP is consideration for multi-drug resistant pathogens, pseudomonas, and MRSA.

Category: Cardiology

Title: cardiac arrest and ultrasound

Keywords: aortic dissection, aortic aneurysm, cardiac arrest, ultrasound (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/16/2008 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Amal Mattu, MD

Death from ruptured aortic aneurysms and thoracic aortic dissection has a few key features that often help in distinguishing these entities from other causes of rapid decompensation and sudden death:
1. These aortic disasters have a tendency to present with hypotension but without necessarily any specific complaints of pain (in contrast to common teaching).
2. These aortic disasters tend usually to produce PEA as the initial arrest rhythm.
3. These aortic disasters are often diagnosable on bedside ultrasound (AAA seen when scanning the abdomen; dissections frequently produce pericardial tamponade as they dissect backwards into the pericardial sack).

ALWAYS take a look at a patient's aorta and pericardium with the ultrasound when that patient presents in extremis or in cardiac arrest. The results can help make some critical diagnostic and therapeutic decisions.

[recent article related to this topic: Pierce LC, Courtney DM. Clinical characteristics of aortic aneurysm and dissection as a cause of sudden death in outpatients. Am J Emerg Med 2008;26:1042-1046.]

Category: Misc

Title: Glucometers

Keywords: Glucometer, Accuracy (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/15/2008 by Michael Bond, MD (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Michael Bond, MD

The glucometer is one of the devices that we quickly reach for in the management of our unresponsive patients, diabetics and in the critically ill.  Recently, I noticed that our Roche Accu-Check has a big sticker on the case stating that results could be affected by therapies that alter the metabolism of galactose, maltose, and xylose.  Since this was a big hole in my fund of knowledge I decided to look up what else affects the accuracy of glucometers.

 Now, Dr. Winters already warned used about the inaccuracy of bedside glucometer readings in the critically ill, but what about the patient that is not septic and/or in shock.

Substances/Drugs that have been reported to affect the accuracy of glucometers are:

  • Levodopa
  • Dopamine
  • Mannitol
  • Acetaminophen
  • Severe lipemia
  • Severe unconguted bilirubin
  • Elevated Uric Acid
  • Maltose (present in immunoglobin products)
  • Patient on peritoneal dialysis secondary to Icodextrin
  • Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)

Anemia also results in higher values, and a capillary blood sample can differ from venous blood by as much as 70mg/dL.

Most errors are more significant when dealing with hypoglycemia. 

So the moral of the story is be careful with a bedside glucometer when the reading is low, as the venous blood sample sent to the lab may return even lower.  Error on the side of treating the patient with glucose.



Show References

Category: Neurology

Title: Status Epilepticus

Keywords: status epilepticus, seizure (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/13/2008 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD

  • Exact definitions of status epilepticus vary. 
  • Generally speaking, status epilepticus is defined as a single unremitting seizure that lasts longer than 5 to 10 minutes OR greater than one generalized clinical seizure with no interictal return to clinical baseline.
  • While treatment with phenytoin and diazepam is often used for status, studies have shown that lorazepam use alone is more effective. 

Category: Toxicology

Title: Opioid Allergies and Cross-reactivity

Keywords: opioid, opiate, allergy, hypersensitivity (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/5/2008 by Bryan Hayes, PharmD (Emailed: 11/13/2008) (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Bryan Hayes, PharmD

How many times have you had a patient with an allergy to codeine described as stomach upset?  Or how about a rash with morphine (probably secondary to histamine release)?  True anaphylactic reactions to opioids are very rare (< 1%).  But what happens when you have a patient with a true allergy, but still need to give an opioid?  No problem, you just need to choose one that is structurally different.

  • Group 1 (aka opiates) - Naturally occurring agents derived from the opium plant
    • Morphine, codeine, thebaine
  • Group 2 - Semi-synthetics
    • Hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, buprenorphine (heroin is also in this group)
  • Group 3 - Synthetics
    • Fentanyl (alfentanil, sufentanil, etc.), methadone, tramadol, propoxyphene, meperidine

All of the group 1 and 2 agents are structurally very similar to each other and should not be given if a true allergy exists to any other natural or semi-synthetic derivative.  Group 3 agents have structures different enough that they can be given to a patient intolerant to the natural or semi-synthetics without fear of cross reactivity.  They are also very different from others in this same group.

The bottom line is that most of our patients don’t have true opioid allergies.  Just as an example, you will many times see a patient listed as having a percocet or morphine allergy and yet they tolerate hydromorphone without a problem. Go figure…

Category: Critical Care

Title: Seizures and the Critically Ill

Keywords: seizure, metabolic (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/11/2008 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Mike Winters, MD

Seizures in the Critically Ill

  • Seizures are a common complication in medical and surgical patients commonly arising from coexisting conditions associated with critical illness
  • Most seizures in the critically ill are generalized convulsions rather than focal
  • The majority of seizures occur in patients without a pre-existing history of seizure disorder
  • Common causes of seizures in the critically ill include sepsis, cardiovascular disease, metabolic abnormalities, medications, and drug intoxication/withdrawal
  • Metabolic abnormalities account for 30 -35% of causes
  • The most common metabolic abnormalities include hyponatremia, hypocalcemia, hypophosphatemia, uremia, and hypoglycemia
  • Be sure to check these labs in ICU patients with a seizure

Show References

Category: Vascular

Title: Key Pitfall to Avoid in Severely Hypertensive Patients

Keywords: hypertension (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/10/2008 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Rob Rogers, MD

Key Pitfall to Avoid in Severely Hypertensive Patients One of the biggest pitfalls committed when treating severely hypertensive patients (asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic) is in "stacking" antihypertensive (oral) medications. Mike Winters has mentioned this previously. This occurs when several medications are given one after another...resulting in a precipitous drop in blood pressure. This could result in severe hypotension and stroke. Pearls: 1. Don't stack too many BP meds in the ED (resist the urge to do this. 2. If the patient's BP is sky high (i.e. 250/170), forget oral meds and get control of the BP with a drip. This is a safer approach than adding many different medications and taking the risk of hypotension. 3. Don't just treat the number 4. Hypertensive patients can go home (with prompt followup)

Category: Cardiology

Title: low QRS voltage on the ECG

Keywords: low voltage, electrocardiography (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/9/2008 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Amal Mattu, MD

Low QRS voltage (LV) on the ECG is generally defined as the presence of QRS amplitudes which are < 0.5 mV (5 mm) in all of the limb leads and < 1.0 mV (10 mm) in all of the precordial leads. This is a fairly tight definition and for practical purposes, the definition is sometimes expanded to include patients with the sum of QRS amplitudes in leads I, III, and III adding up to < 15 mm; OR the sum of the QRS amplitudes in leads V1, V2, and V3 adding up to < 30 mm. Causes of LV can be divided into two major groups: (1) deficiency of the heart's generated potentials, or "cardiac causes," and (2) attenuating influences outside the heart, or "extracardiac causes." Cardiac causes include: cardiomyopathies (which can sometimes be caused by multiple prior MIs), infiltrative cardiac diseases (e.g. amyloid), severe hypothermia, and inflammatory diseases of the heart due to chemicals or infections (incl. myocarditis). Extracardiac causes include: large pericardial or pleural effusions, obesity, COPD (esp. if a barrel chest is present), pneumothorax and other forms of barotrauma (esp. left-sided).

Category: Orthopedics

Title: Maisonneuve Fracture

Keywords: maisonneuve, tibia, fibula, fracture, ankle, orthopedic (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/2/2008 by Dan Lemkin, MD, MS (Emailed: 11/8/2008) (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Dan Lemkin, MD, MS

A maisonneuve fracture is a fracture dislocation resulting from external rotational forces to ankle -- through interosseous ligament to fibula.

  • Proximal fibula fracture - from external rotational forces (spiral/oblique)
  • Ankle components can include any of the following:
    • medial maleolus avulsion fx or deltoid ligament rupture
    • anterior talofibular ligament rupture
    • interosseous ligament rupture
    • posterior malleolar fracture

If stability is questionable, orthopedic evaluation under anesthesia is required. Additionally always consider compartment syndrome. Do not rely on Kanduval's signs (pain, paraesthesia, pallor, poikilothermia, pulselessness) - "... with the exception of pain and paraesthesia, these traditional signs are not reliable." Emergent orthopedic consultation and compartment pressure assessment should be performed. (see attached photos)


Show References

Category: Toxicology

Title: Salvia Divinorum

Keywords: Drugs of abuse, salvia, sage (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/6/2008 by Ellen Lemkin, MD, PharmD (Emailed: 11/7/2008) (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Ellen Lemkin, MD, PharmD

This is a psychoactive herb which can induce strong dissociative effects by stimulation of the kappa receptor. It has become increasingly well known and available in modern culture, and popularized by YouTube Salvia (also known as Sage, Diviner's Sage, Magic Mint, or Sally D) is usually smoked, but can be chewed or ingested.

The high it produces is very intense, but lasts only approximately 10 minutes. Currently many states have enacted legislation against it, including Fla, IL, KA, MI, MO, ND, OK and VA, but it is available over the internet.


The following video demonstrates clinical effects of drug.
Although it is amusing, this is not meant to condone use.

(if you can not view the embeded video here is the link)

Category: Neurology

Title: Chiari Malformations

Keywords: chiari malformation, cerebellum, vertigo, congenital abnormalities (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/5/2008 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD

  • Chiari Malformations are congenital abnormalities wherein the cerebellum downwardly displaces into the spinal canal.
  • This results in an increase in pressure and subsequent obstruction of CSF flow.
  • Common symptoms associated with Chiari Malformations include:

              -  vertigo

              -  headache

              -  muscle weakness

              -  coordination abnormalities

              -  gait abnormalities

              -  visual abnormalities

Category: Vascular

Title: PERC Rules have been validated

Keywords: PERC Rules (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/4/2008 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Rob Rogers, MD

Pulmonary Embolism Rule Out Critieria (PERC) A brief reminder about the PERC rules... Use of the PERC (Pulmonary Embolism Rule-out Criteria) rule can significantly decrease work-up for pulmonary embolism. To apply this rule, the clinician must first use clinical gestalt to classify the patient as low risk. The PERC rule, which consists of eight clinical criteria including history, physical and vital signs, can then be used. If both of these criteria are met, then there is less than a 2 percent risk that this patient has a PE and no further work-up is needed. PERC Rule: Age < 50 years Pulse < 100 bpm SaO2 > 94% No unilateral leg swelling No hemoptysis No recent trauma or surgery No prior PE or DVT No hormone use This rule has now been validated in a large, multicenter trial. Bottom line: If you walk out of the room and your clinical gestalt is "no PE" and the PERC rule is negative, there is a <2% chance of pulmonary embolism (<2% probability, by the way, is what many PE experts consider the test threshold)

Show References

Category: Critical Care

Title: Auto-PEEP

Keywords: auto-peep, mechanical ventilation (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/4/2008 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Mike Winters, MD

Auto-PEEP in the non-COPD patient

  • In previous pearls we have discussed the concept of auto-peep in patients with expiratory flow limitation (asthma and COPD)
  • Unexpected auto-peep can also occur in up to 35% of patients without asthma or COPD
  • In these patients, auto-PEEP typically occurs with high minute ventilations (> 20 L/min) with shortened exhalation times or if exhalation is blocked (blocked ETT, exhalation valve, or PEEP valve)
  • Recall that auto-PEEP increases the work of breathing, worsens gas exchange, and can cause hemodynamic compromise 
  • Treatment of auto-PEEP can be as follows:
    • Change ventilator settings
      • increase expiratory time
      • decrease respiratory rate
      • decrease tidal volume
    • Reduce ventilatory demand
      • reduce anxiety, pain, fever with sedatives
    • Reduce flow resistance
      • large-bore ETT
      • frequent suctioning
    • Apply external PEEP

Show References

Category: Cardiology

Title: risk factors and CAD

Keywords: coronary heart disease, cardiac disease, risk factors (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/2/2008 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 8/12/2020)
Click here to contact Amal Mattu, MD

The classic risk factors for coronary artery disease (e.g. hypertension, diabetes, smoking, etc.) are helpful at predicting the long-term risk of CAD, but they have limited utility at predicting whether a patient with acute symptoms is having an acute coronary syndrome or not. In one recent study of > 800 patients with suspected cardiac chest pain, 12% of patients with NO cardiac risk factors ruled-in for acute MI.

Never rule out ACS in a patient purely based on the absence of traditional cardiac risk factors!

[Body R, McDowell G, Carley S, et al. Do risk factors for chronic coronary heart disease help diagnose acute myocardial infarction in the Emergency Department? Resuscitation 2008;79:41-45.]