Management of Variceal Bleeding

A 50 year-old man with a history of alcoholism attended to the emergency department having been found at home comatose.

He had a reduced Glasgow coma score on admission and was vomiting blood. He was not protecting his airway and was tachypnoeic, tachycardic and had a reduced systolic blood pressure. His oxygen saturations were low and there were coarse crackles on his chest. Old notes showed that on previous endoscopy oesophageal and gastric varices were found. He was cachectic with hepatosplenomegaly but no signs of ascites.. He was rumoured to be abstinent from alcohol and had been previously well up to one day ago when he was last seen. There was some report that he had been behaving oddly over the last 5 days though.

 

Supplemental oxygen was provided and the decision to intubate was made. An initial attempt to insert a Sengstaken-blakemore tube was abandoned until the patient was intubated using a rapid sequence intubation technique. The gastric balloon was inflated and put under tension. Blood tests showed a reduced haemoglobin level but no clotting abnormality. Transfusion of packed red cells was made.

Medical therapy included beginning a course of prophylactic antibiotics. Terlipressin was started at 2mg intravenously four times daily. He was also started on high dose proton pump inhibitors, lactulose and thiamine supplements.

The gastric balloon was left inflated for 10 hours and as there was no haemodynamic sign of further bleeding was then deflated. Oesophagogastrocopy the next morning on the intensive care unit showed only grade 1 varices with no recent stigmata of bleeding and some mild gastric erosions.

He continued to be haemodynamically stable and sedation was weaned. He did not wake up as expected on sedation hold and his ammonia level was found to be raised. Over the course of the next 2 days he improved and was extubated successfully and discharged to the ward.

Describe the management of variceal bleeding.

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Post-operative Opioid-Induced Hyperalgesia

 

An elderly female was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU)following a planned hemi-hepatectomy to remove metastatic lesions from a previously resected primary colorectal cancer. The patient had declined neuraxial anaesthesia. The surgery proceeded uneventfully via a rooftop incision under general anaesthesia, which was maintained with remifentanil, sevofluorane and paralysis with atracurium.

30 minutes before the termination of the three hour operation, a bolus of 10mg of morphine was given intravenously and a patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) morphine pump was prepared. At emergence from anaesthesia, paralysis was reversed, and the patient was successfully extubated. In the ICU the patient was instructed in the use of the PCA. She was initially comfortable, but within 30 minutes she complained of worsening abdominal pain around the upper abdominal incision and became tachycardic.

To address this patient’s worsening post-operative abdominal pain 10mg of morphine was given intravenously. Simultaneously she was reassessed and the potential cause of the pain was sought. The abdomen remained soft and mildly tender. Drains were dry, and parameters including blood pressure, respiratory rate, haemoglobin, and arterial blood gases were satisfactory.

The morphine was ineffective. She was given 1g of intravenous paracetamol, a further bolus of 10mg of morphine and two sequential 500mL aliquots of crystalloid. Surgical review was requested. After another 20 minutes the pain had not diminished so she received a bolus of fentanyl and a trial dose of 100mg of intravenous tramadol. Unfortunately these measures did not reduce the pain at all. Although vital signs were unchanged, the patient was increasingly distressed.

There was no apparent clinical deterioration to account for the increased pain. Yet, control of her symptoms had clearly been lost and routine analgesia was ineffective. Urgent senior review was requested. Suspecting that she had become refractory to opioid analgesia, and concerned about the severity of the pain and its potential complications, the consultant stopped the patient’s PCA, increased the inspired oxygen fraction to 0.80 through a non-rebreathe mask, and gave 50mg of ketamine intravenously.

These interventions significantly improved symptoms over the next ten minutes. The patient remained conscious though slightly drowsy and her tachycardia settled. Simple analgesics and a low dose infusion of 2-5 mcg/kg/min (approximately 10-25 mg/h) of ketamine were prescribed. These effectively controlled her pain. After the patient had remained comfortable and clinically stable for several hours, the PCA was gradually re-introduced and the ketamine was discontinued. She was discharged to the ward the following day.

What is opioid-induced hyperalgesia?Read More »

Faecal Peritonitis: The Role of Laparostomy

A 68-year-old previously fit woman was admitted with left lower abdominal pain and signs of cardiovascular shock. She had had a 2 day history of crampy left lower abdominal pain and altered bowel habit. Clinically she had a diagnosis of bowel perforation with generalised peritonitis. She was exhibiting signs of shock with a pronounced tachycardia and a reduced systolic blood pressure.

She was started on fluid resuscitation and intravenous antibiotics. After her cardiovascular system stabilised she was taken to the operating theatre where she had a laparotomy. A sigmoid perforation was found with four quadrant faecal contamination. A Hartmann’s procedure was performed. A laparostomy was decided upon at the first instance, and was covered with a VAC dressing.

She was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) still intubated and ventilated.

Her condition rapidly worsened on the ICU. She required vasopressor support intra-operatively and her requirements rapidly escalated. She seemed to stabilse over the next 36 hours. Her condition then worsened and she was taken back to theatre for a washout of her peritoneal cavity. A number of collections were found and further soiling of her abdomen was evident. Her condition remained the same for the next 12 hours but then started to show an improvement again. She continued to make a good response to treatment over the next 3-4 days. She had another washout at 4 days. She was extubated on day 5 and invasive monitoring and cardiovascular support was no longer needed.

 

What is the role of laparotomy in the management of faecal peritonitis?Read More »

Decompressive Craniotomy in Traumatic Brain Injury

A 20 year-old man was admitted to his local district hospital with a severe head injury following an assault. On arrival in the Emergency Department he was agitated with a reduced conscious level, with evidence of blunt trauma to the head and neck. Prior to intubation, his Glasgow Coma Score (GCS) was recorded as 7 (E1V2M4), and with cervical spine precautions he underwent intubation with subsequent mechanical ventilation and sedation.

An urgent CT brain and cervical spine revealed early evidence of intracerebral contusions with diffuse areas of petechial intracerebral haemorrhage identified. Nasal and maxillary fractures were also seen, with no cervical spine pathology identified. He was transferred to the regional neurological centre for assessment and ongoing management.

On arrival in the Neurosurgical Intensive Care unit the patient underwent insertion of an intracranial pressure monitor revealing an intracranial pressure (ICP) of between 30-35 mmHg. Pupil reactivity was sluggish bilaterally. Sedation was changed to infusions of propofol, fentanyl and midazolam, positioning was optimised with 20 degree head-up tilt, endotracheal tube ties were replaced and targeted mechanical ventilation to EtCO2 4- 4.5kPa. Central venous access was established and an infusion of Noradrenaline was used to target cerebral perfusion pressure to 70mmHg.

Initial medical management stabilised ICP below 25mmHg, but within the next 12 hours this began to rise despite neuromuscular blockade and infusion of hypertonic saline. Further CT imaging revealed progression of the intracerebral contusions with developing oedema. The patient was transferred to the operating theatre for insertion of an external ventricular drain. CSF drainage resulted in an immediate but small improvement in ICP but again over the next 12 hours it began to rise, and decision was made for bifrontal decompressive craniectomy.

Subsequent recovery was slow and was complicated by ventilator-associated pneumonia, a protracted tracheostomy wean and severe agitation. The patient underwent intensive neuro-rehabilitation and had been decannulated, but was left with persistent cognitive impairment, seizures and depression.

What is the rationale for performing decompressive craniotomy in TBI?

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Refractory Status Epilepticus

 

A middle aged man presented with seizures. For 4 days he had been feeling unwell with coryzal symptoms, frontal headache and dizziness. He had ‘not been himself’ for some months. He had no previous medical history and had never had a seizure before. The ambulance crew noted that he was confused and witnessed a generalised tonic-clonic seizure. On arrival in hospital he was severely agitated and uncooperative and received IV lorazepam.

He was not adequately protecting his airway, saturations were 100% on high flow oxygen, temperature was 37.8, his pulse was 88, BP 129/90mmHg, blood sugar was 7.7. Clinical examination did not reveal any abnormality except for diminished level of consciousness. A presumptive diagnosis of meningitis / encephalitis was made. His trachea was intubated, he received fluids, parenteral vitamins, IV ceftriaxone and acyclovir. A CT head (with contrast) was obtained and a lumbar puncture were normal. His blood tests, CXR, urinary toxicology screen, and ECG were non-contributory. Arterial blood gas analysis revealed changes consistent with being post ictal and then (whilst ventilated) normalised.

His sedation was weaned and once extubated he remained very drowsy, even 18 hours after his last sedation. A Glasgow Coma Score (GCS) was recorded at E1V1M5 (7/15). His pupils were equal and reactive, and he was moving all 4 limbs. Both plantar responses were down-going, and tone and reflexes were symmetrical. He had myoclonic jerking of his left hand but no rhythmical muscle activity was evident. To protect his airway he required reintubation of his trachea and re-institution of ventilation.

In addition to sedation with propofol and alfentanil he received therapeutic phenytoin. An electroencephalogram (EEG) performed on his second day, off sedation, revealed continuous periodic sharp and slow wave complexes at around 1Hz with intermittent high amplitude waves in the left temporal region and bursts of rhythmical activity in the right temporal region. At the time of the EEG he had some abnormal motor activity – continuous movement of his fingers and twitching of an eyelid and rhythmical jerking of both of his arms. An MRI of his brain was normal.

In this clinical context the EEG was interpreted as being consistent with encephalitis and non-convulsive status epilepticus.  Phenobarbitone was started in addition to the phenytoin. Normothermia and normoglycemia was maintained. To improve the management of his non convulsive status we continuously monitored his cerebral electrical activity with a bispectral index (BIS) monitor and bitemporal EEGs. We targeted a burst suppression of 20-50%. Propofol was ineffective at reducing the BIS without causing limiting hypotension but midazolam was effective.

Further investigations did not further our search for the primary diagnosis. A further EEG was performed 24 hours later, off midazolam but whilst on 350mg/hr of propofol. He developed some rhythmical motor activity and his EEG revealed ongoing abnormal electric activity, consistent with continued non-convulsive status, which resolved in response to a bolus of propofol. A possible diagnosis of limbic encephalitis was considered and methylprednisolone (1g IV) was administered.

A repeat MRI showed increased abnormal signal changes in the amygdala and hippocampus, which is supportive of the diagnosis of limbic encephalitis.

Despite optimal medical treatment his EEG showed more severe and continued abnormal electrical activity. Thiopentone was added to his anti-seizure regime. By the 19th day from initial presentation multiorgan failure had developed. He required ventilation with high airway pressures and high inspired oxygen concentrations for lung injury due to ventilator associated pneumonia, vasoactive drugs to support his cardiovascular system through the associated sepsis, haemofiltration for renal failure and had ileus with failure of enteral feeding. There were still signs of seizure activity despite concurrent administration of propofol, midazolam, phenytoin, levetiracetam, phenobarbitone and sodium valproate. Supportive treatment was withdrawn following diagnosis of brain-stem death. His family did not permit a post mortem examination.Read More »

Steroids in Cervical Spine Injury

Steroids in Cervical Spine Injury

A previously fit and well 46 year-old was admitted via the emergency department having sustained a neck injury whilst horse riding. She was unable to move her arms and legs immediately after the fall. On arrival to the Emergency Department, she was alert and orientated. Examination of the cardiovascular and respiratory system was unremarkable although there was evidence of diaphragmatic breathing.

Examination of her neurological system revealed:

•A sensory level at C6
•Absent upper limb reflexes except for brisk bicep reflex bilaterally
•⅖ power in shoulder abductors bilaterally
•Flaccid paralysis of her lower limbs
•No anal tone

She was initially managed in a hard neck collar with full spinal immobilisation. CT brain was reported to be normal. CT neck showed an obviously displaced fracture of C5 and C6 vertebral bodies. She was transferred to the intensive care unit for cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological monitoring while a definitive treatment plan was being considered. After discussions with the orthopaedic surgeons, it was decided not to commence high-dose steroids. This decision was reinforced after discussion with the local neurosurgical and spinal units. It was also decided not to surgically stabilise the c-spine due to the higher risk of respiratory complications. She was transferred to the spinal rehabilitation unit after 2 days.

What is the role of steroids in cervical spine injury?Read More »

Coiling versus Clipping Subarachnoid Haemorrhages

Coiling versus Clipping Subarachnoid Haemorrhages

A 40 year old female presented with a severe sudden onset headache, and deteriorated in the emergency department with worsening agitation and confusion requiring intubation and ventilation for her own safety. A CT scan diagnosed a Fisher Grade 4 subarachnoid haemorrhage and obstructive hydrocephalus. Clinical presentation was scored as Hunt and Hess grade 4 or World Federation of Neurosurgeons grade 4. The patient was transferred to the local tertiary Neurocritical care unit where an extra-ventricular drain was inserted overnight. The following day the patient underwent coiling of her right middle cerebral artery aneurysm in the radiology suite. A Magnesium infusion and Nimodipine therapy were commenced to reduce the risk of vasospasm. On initial sedation hold she woke up agitated so she had an early tracheostomy placed to allow controlled wake up. She had a straightforward respiratory wean from the ventilator over the next few days. Neurological recovery was good (Glasgow coma score improved to 14/15) and the patient was discharged to the ward for on-going neuro rehabilitation and repatriation to the base hospital.

What are the risks of clipping vs coiling subarachnoid haemorrhages?Read More »

ICP Monitoring in Non-Traumatic Intracranial Haemorrhage

ICP Monitoring in Non-Traumatic Intracranial Haemorrhage

A middle aged man had a sudden collapse with no precipitating features. His GCS on presentation was 3, with unequal but reactive pupils and CT brain showed a large subarachnoid bleed with midline shift. Neurosurgical opinion was to observe for clinical improvement, after which an intervention might be indicated. He was sedated on ICU and his MAP maintained above 80mmHg with noradrenaline. Nimodipine was commenced and mannitol was administered. After 24 hours he had a sedation hold and he began to localise and open eyes spontaneously. He was transferred to the neurosurgical unit.

Should all patients with non-traumatic intracranial haemorrhage have intracranial pressure (ICP) monitoring established?Read More »