UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Toxicology

Title: Methadone-induced QT prolongation

Keywords: methadone, QT prolongation, torsade de pointes, magnesium (PubMed Search)

Posted: 1/7/2009 by Bryan Hayes, PharmD (Emailed: 1/8/2009) (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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A few previous pearls have touched on identifying drugs that cause QT prolongation.  In our patient population, methadone is one of the more common causes of drug-induced prolonged QT syndrome.  Of 692 physicians surveyed (35% family practitioners, 25% internests, 22% psychiatrists, and 8% self-identified addiction specialists) only 41% were aware of methadone's QT-prolonging properties and just 24% were aware of methadone's association with torsade de pointes.


Now that you know, what do you do when a patient on methadone presents with a QTC of 580 msec and intermittent runs of vtach and torsade de pointes?


The answer is... the exact same thing you would do with any other patient who presents this way, regardless of the cause.

  • Give magnesium sulfate 2 gm IV for torsade de pointes
  • Check magnesium and potassium levels.  If low (which they often are), replete.
  • Monitor continuous EKG.

Buprenorphine, an alternative to methadone, is not associated with prolonged QT syndrome.


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Category: Neurology

Title: Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS)

Keywords: glasgow coma scale, glasgow coma score, gcs, concsious, head injury (PubMed Search)

Posted: 1/7/2009 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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  • Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) is a validated score intended to provide a reliable and objective method for recording and communicating a patient's consciousness.
  • It was originally created to assess head injury patients' neurologic status/deficit.
  • The scale ranges from 3 (deeply unconscious) to 15 (fully awake).
  • It tests the following three responses:  (1) eye, (2) verbal, and (3) motor, listed in order of increasing functional significance with regard to status (i.e. optimal eye response assigned lower score (best score = 4), followed by a best score of 5 for verbal response, and optimal motor function being scored at 6.

Category: Critical Care

Title: Fluids and ICH

Keywords: intracerebral hemorrhage, normal saline, hypertonic saline (PubMed Search)

Posted: 1/7/2009 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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Intracerebral hemorrhage and fluid management

  • Isotonic fluids (0.9% saline) are the standard IV fluid for patients with ICH
  • The goal for fluid management is to maintain euvolemia with a urine output > 0.5 cc/kg
  • Importantly, 0.45% saline and dextrose containing IVFs should be avoided, as they can exacerbate cerebral edema and increase ICP
  • Hypertonic saline has become a popular aternative to normal saline in patients with significant perihematomal edema and mass effect
  • Goals when using hypertonic saline are to maintain serum osmolality between 300 - 320 mOsm/L and serum sodium between 150 - 155 mEq/L

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Category: Vascular

Title: Neurologic Manifestations of Acute Aortic Dissection

Keywords: Acute, Aortic Dissection, Neurologic (PubMed Search)

Posted: 1/6/2009 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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Neurologic Manifestations of Acute Aortic Dissection

A myriad of neurologic presentations of acute aortic dissection have been reported in the literature. Although classic CVA symptoms may occur, nonspecific neurologic symptoms are much more common

These include:

  • Classic stroke-like/TIA symptoms
  • Encephalopathy (may look like a drug overdose)
  • Seizures (ask Mike Abraham about his abdominal pain/seizure case)

Take Home Point:

  • Consider the diagnosis of acute aortic dissection in patients with these findings who ALSO HAVE chest, back, or abdominal pain +/- risk factors for the disease (i.e. HTN, family history, Marfans, cocaine, etc.)

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Category: ENT

Title: Otitis Externa

Keywords: Otitis Externa, Malginant (PubMed Search)

Posted: 1/4/2009 by Michael Bond, MD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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Otitis Externa:

Infections of the external ear canal are common and can typically be treated with topical antibiotic solutions (Cortisporin Otic, Cipro Otic, etc...) or antibiotic solutions mixed with topical steroids (Cortisporin HC Otic, Cipro HC Otic, etc...).  Most patients should not require PO or IV antibiotics.

However, you need to always be on the look out for malginant otitis externa (MOE) which is a more deep seated infeciton extending into the temporal bone and can have a mortality rate as high as 50%.  Patients that are diabetic, immunospressed, or have had radiation therapy to the base of the skull are at increased risk.  Patients with MOE typically have pain out of proportion to clinical findings and granulation tissue may be present in the ear canal.  Suspect this diagnosis in patients that have cellulitis or extreme tenderness over the mastoid process.

If you suspect MOE the patient should be started on antibiotics that cover pseudomonas. Consider obtaining a CT scan with temporal bone cuts and an Otolaryngology consultation.

Category: Pediatrics

Title: Ketamine for Septic Work Ups

Keywords: pediatric procedual sedation, ketamine (PubMed Search)

Posted: 1/3/2009 by Don Van Wie, DO (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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Next time you have to do a full septic work up on a 2 month old with a fever of 104 F consider giving Ketamine 3mg/kg IM before even starting.  Then you can obtain your cath urine, IV, and LP with a calm pain free patient!!

Ketamine induces a catatonic state that provides sedation, analgesia, and amnesia.  It does not affect pharyngeal-laryngeal reflexes and the patient maintains a patent airway.  This makes it very useful when fasting is not assured.   

Route          Onset          Duration             Dose

  IM            3-5 min         20-30min         3-5 mg/kg

  IV             1 min            5-10 min          1-2 mg/kg

Category: Toxicology

Title: Non-Cardiac Cocaine Toxicity

Keywords: Cocaine, stroke, crack lung, headache, seizures, hyperthermia, stroke (PubMed Search)

Posted: 1/1/2009 by Ellen Lemkin, MD, PharmD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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Although we tend to think of ACS with cocaine use, there are many other serious complications, including:

  • Agitation, psychosis, and anxiety
  • Hyperthermia
  • Vascular headache of withdrawal
  • Seizures
  • Hemorrhagic stroke (many of these patients have an underlying vascular abnormality)
  • Ischemic stroke
  • Acute Renal Failure
  • Crack Lung: acute pulmonary syndrome that occurs after inhaling freebase cocaine presents as fever, dyspnea, hypoxemia, diffuse alveolar infiltrates, and respiratory failure
  • Intestinal perforations

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Category: Critical Care

Title: Blood Pressure and ICH

Keywords: blood pressure, intracerebral hemorrhage (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/31/2008 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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Blood Pressure Control in ICH

  • Aggressive BP reduction after ICH is currently the focus of an ongoing NINDS study (ATACH Study)
  • Current literature recommends that extreme levels of BP after ICH be treated to reduce hematoma expansion
  • Mean arterial pressures (MAP) > 130 mmHg should be treated with continous IV medications
  • Current recommended medications include labetalol, esmolol, nicardipine, and fenoldopam
  • Nitroprusside is avoided by many given its tendency to increase ICP
  • Oral and sub-lingual medications are not indicated for immediate and precise BP control

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Category: Infectious Disease

Title: Infections That Cause Temperature-Pulse Dissociation

Keywords: Infections, Temperature (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/29/2008 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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This pearl is dedicated to Dr. Michael Rolnick....


Infections That Cause Temperature-PulseDissociation

Certain infections may cause temperature-pulse dissociation (relative bradycardia in association with fever).

Remember that normally there will be an increase in pulse rate by 10 bpm for every 1 degree increase in temperature. So, if a patient has a temperature of 103 F, expect them to be tachycardic.

Any intracellular organism has the potential to cause a relative bradycardia (Faget's sign)

Infections that cause dissociation:

  • Salmonella typhi
  • C burnetii (agent of Q fever)
  • Chlamydia infections
  • Dengue fever

Category: Cardiology

Title: diastolic heart failure

Keywords: heart failure, congestive heart failure, CHF, diastolic dysfunction (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/28/2008 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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Diastolic dysfunction is recognized as a much more common cause of CHF and cardiogenic pulmonary edema than traditionally recognized. Diastolic dysfunction is associated with impaired relaxation, which results in a decrease in LV filling, which results in pulmonary congestion. Common causes of diastolic dysfunction are cardiac ischemia, LVH, and infiltrative diseases.

Category: Infectious Disease

Title: CA-MRSA, treatment

Keywords: CA-MRSA, Treatment (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/27/2008 by Michael Bond, MD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
Click here to contact Michael Bond, MD

It is almost impossible to get through a shift these days with out seeing an abscess that is caused by CA-MRSA.  As of the 2007 Antibiotic nomogram (2008 data not yet available) at University of Maryland CA-MRSA was only 70% sensitive to clindamycin, and >98% sensitive to bactrim and > 96% sensitive to doxcycline.  A local community hospital in Baltimore is showing only 55% sensitivity to clindamycin.

As a New Year's resolution to yourself I recommend that you check with your local hospital's Micrology department to see what the sensitivities are to bactrim, clindamycin, doxycycline.  If sensitivities are less than 80% it would generally be recommended that these medications not be used as initial empiric treatment.

For Baltimore bactrim and doxycycline should probably be the preferred treatment options.

Have a Great New Year.

Category: Pediatrics

Title: Propofol for Pediatric Procedural Sedation

Keywords: Proprofol,pediatrics,pediatric procedural sedation (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/26/2008 by Don Van Wie, DO (Updated: 7/29/2021)
Click here to contact Don Van Wie, DO

Propofol is an IV hypnotic that is made in a soy-based emulsion containing soybean oil, egg lecithin, and glycerol.  It has a very rapid onset time (10-50 seconds) and a brief duration of action making it ideal for ED sedation.  Children have a more rapid metabolism of propofol than adults.  Propofol has been shown to be safe and effective for Pediatric ED sedation in several studies.  

Pearls on Propofol

  • Dosing is 1mg/kg bolus than 0.5 mg/kg IV q 1-2 min until desired sedation occurs
  • Due to high lipid concentration can cause pain at injection site in up to 70% of patients.  This can be prevented by applying a rubber tourniquet well above IV site and injecting 0.5 mg/kg of lidocaine 30 seconds before injecting the propofol. 
  • Use is contraindicated in those with allergies to Eggs, Soy, or sulfites, or those with mitochondrial disorders
  • PRIS (Propofol Infusion Syndrome) was described in 1992 with case reports of children dying due to metabolic acidosis, rhabdomyolysis, and refractory heart failure when receiving high doses (>4mg/kg/h) for >48 hours.  And it is more associated with children < 4 years old. 
  • So while safe for pediatric procedural sedation don't use propofol as a drip for intubated children.

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Category: Toxicology

Title: Toxicology - Happy Holidays

Keywords: adverse drug reaction (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/25/2008 by Fermin Barrueto, MD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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Watch out for tradename and generic name's of medications.

They can get the patient and yourself into trouble:

  • coumadin: warfarin, jantoven
  • diphenhydramine: unisom, benadryl, tylenol PM

Classic example is my own case: Insert a central line in a patient - subclavian - and shortly after completion am alerted the patient's INR is 25. No adverse outcome but when I reviewed the med list, I did not see coumadin or warfarin and assumed I was in the clear. Patient was on jantoven.

Happy Holidays

Category: Toxicology

Title: Fat emulsion for treating local anesthetic toxicity

Keywords: Fat emulsion, intralipid, local anesthetic (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/25/2008 by Ellen Lemkin, MD, PharmD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
Click here to contact Ellen Lemkin, MD, PharmD

  • Local anesthetics work through reversible binding of sodium channels
  • If inadvertantly administered intravenously or as an overdose, serious CNS and cardiac toxicities can occur, including seizures, arrhythmias, and cardiovascular collapse
  • Fat emulsion has been shown to increase the lethal dose of bupivicaine required, and also resuscitate animals that have local-anesthetic induced cardiac collapse
  • There have been successful case reports of patiets treated with fat emulsion that had cardiac arrest, seizures, and EKG changes. All patients recovered successfully with no neurologic sequale
  • Regimens used in these cases have included bolus doses between 1.2 -2 ml/kg followed by continuous infusions of 0.25 -0.5 ml/kg/min
  • Toxicity may be ameloriated by extracting lipophilic anesthetics from plasma or tissue, or by countering inhibition of myocardial fatty acid oxygenation

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Category: Neurology

Title: Common Ischemic Stroke Lesions

Keywords: ischemic stroke, basal ganglia, internal capsule (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/24/2008 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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  • The most common anatomical locations for ischemic stroke are in the internal capsule and the basal ganglia.
  • Look for hypodensity (i.e. darkening which suggests edema) in these parts of the brain on CT when trying to locate areas of stroke.
  • Acute stroke typically takes at least 3 hours to manifest in the form of edema on Head CT.  The larger the stroke, the quicker the abnormality is seen.

Category: Critical Care

Title: Hemofiltration

Keywords: renal replacement therapy, hemofiltration (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/23/2008 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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  • Renal replacement therapy (RRT) involves the use of semipermeable membranes to remove fluid and toxic substances from the bloodstream
  • The basic methods of RRT are hemodialysis (HD) and hemofiltration (HF)
  • There have been a few cases in our ED in which our Renal consultants have used HF
  • Hemofiltration can remove large volumes of fluid (up to 3 Liters per hour)
  • Major advantages to HF: less likely to produce hypotension than HD, can remove larger molecules than HD
  • Disadvantages to HF: must be done continuously to provide effective dialysis, requires anticoagulation to maintain circuit patency, not well suited for hypotensive patients (requires a hydrostatic pressure gradient for solute clearance)

Category: Hematology/Oncology

Title: Typhlitis

Keywords: Neutropenic Entercolitis (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/22/2008 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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A neutropenic cancer patient that presents with right lower quadrant abdominal pain, fever, and bloody diarrhea should raise suspicion for typhlitis (necrotizing colitis, cecal inflammation). This most commonly occurs in patients with hematologic malignancies who have been treated with cytotoxic agents. This condition is high risk and is associated with high morbidity and mortaiity.


  • Broad-spectrum antibiotics
  • CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis
  • Surgical consultation
  • Usually requires ICU admission

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Category: Cardiology

Title: post-cardiac arrest care

Keywords: cardiac arrest, hypoglycemia, hypotension, hypothermia (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/21/2008 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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An increasing amount of attention in the literature is now being paid to ways of optimizing care of patients that are post-cardiac arrest. Simple things to focus on for us in the ED are the following:
1. induction of therapeutic hypothermia
2. aggressively manage hypotension and cardiac ischemia
3. treat hyperglycemia aggressively
4. avoid hyperventilation, though maintain adequate oxygenation


Category: Critical Care

Title: Critcal Care Billing Pearls

Keywords: Critical Care, reimburshment, billing (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/20/2008 by Michael Bond, MD (Updated: 7/29/2021)
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Critical Care Billing Pearls:


Level RVU Medicare Commerical
99285    ED E/M, Level 5   4.71 $170 $304
99291    Critical Care, first hour 5.84 $211 $363

As the table shows Critical Care billing will earn you approximately 25% more with no additional overhead.  Critical care time must be at least 30 minutes, and the following procedures are included in the critical care code:   

  • Interpretation of ABG and labs
  • Interpretation of CXR
  • IV insertation
  • Transcutaneous pacing
  • Blood Draws
  • NG Tube placement

The following procedures are not bundled into critical care time, so they can be billed separately, therefore the time you spend doing these procedures can not be included in your total critical care time:

  • Central Line Placement
  • Lumbar Puncture
  • Intubation
  • Transvenious pacemaker placement
  • Arterial Line Placement
  • Chest Tube Placement
  • CPR

Remember critical care time does not need to be continuous but you need to be immediately available to the patient for the time to count.  You can not count time going off the floor to review an xray or CT, but this time can be counted if you do it in the immediate vacinity of the patient.

FINAL CAVEAT  To help your coders bill appropriately it helps to include a statement such as "Critical Care time XX minutes where I was directly involved in the care of this patient exclusive of all other separately billable procedures."

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Category: Pediatrics

Title: Bronchiolitis

Keywords: RSV,Bronchiolitis,apnea (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/19/2008 by Don Van Wie, DO (Updated: 7/29/2021)
Click here to contact Don Van Wie, DO

  • Bronchiolitis is the most common lower respiratory tract disease in infants, and RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus) bronchiolitis is the leading cause of hospitalization in infants.  It will infect 90% of children by 2 years of life.
  • Bronchiolitis "season" in the US is typically December to March but it does occur year round. 
  • Pathology is caused by respiratory epithelial cell death that results in inflammation, edema, smooth muscle contraction, bronchoconstriction and mechanical obstruction by cellular debris and mucus plugging.
  • History that suggest Bronchiolitis is cough, rhinorrhea, fever
  • Most common PE findings are runny nose, tachypnea, wheezing, cough, crackles, use of accessory muscles,  and/or nasal flaring.
  • Respiratory distress, dehydration, sepsis, and RSV associated apnea are feared severe complications.
  • RSV associated apnea may be the presenting symptom in some infants. 
    • Infants at greatest risk for this are younger (usually < 3 months), hx of prematurity, hx of apnea of prematurity, and those who are early on in the illness.


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