Propofol Infusion Syndrome

A 28-year-old man was involved in a high-speed road traffic accident suffering severe head injury (diffuse axonal injury) with bilateral haemopneumothoraces and pulmonary contusions. He was transferred intubated and ventilated to the neurointensive care unit from a district general hospital for intra-cranial pressure (ICP) monitoring.

He was initially managed with bilateral chest drains and conservative neuroprotective measures for difficult to control ICP. He was heavily sedated on propofol (300mg/hr), midazolam (30mg/hr) and fentanyl (300mcg/hr).

Over the next few days his temperature increased and he became increasingly hypoxic. He subsequently developed ECG changes and a echocardiogram showed right heart failure. A diagnosis of pulmonary embolism, which was confirmed on CTPA a few days later which showed evidence of a small PE. He was not anticoagulated due to neurosurgical concern regarding his head injury.

Over the next few days he developed renal failure requiring renal replacement therapy and acute liver failure with hypoglycaemia and lactic acidosis. He developed severe cardiovascular failure requiring multiple inotropes and pulmonary artery catheter guided therapy. Lipids were found to be elevated, with creatine kinase >50,000 and myoglobin found in the urine. Propofol infusion syndrome was diagnosed. Sedation was stopped and he started to make a recovery.

What are the clinical features of propofol infusion syndrome?

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Intra-Abdominal Hypertension


A 48 year old male was admitted to the ICU with rapidly evolving multi-organ dysfunction. He was in type I respiratory failure, hypotensive and had stage II acute kidney injury. He had been an inpatient recovering from a laparotomy for major urological surgery 5 days prior to his ICU admission. This was complicated by a major intraoperative haemorrhage.

The patient was commenced on treatment for presumed hospital acquired pneumonia. He was placed on mechanical ventilation and a noradrenaline infusion was commenced to maintain a mean arterial pressure of ≥65mmHg. Over the following 24 hours the patient displayed worsening lung compliance in the context of adequate oxygenation and an atracurium infusion was started. Simultaneously the patient appeared to develop an ileus and he became anuric. Repeated clinical examination revealed an increasingly distended abdomen. A CT of the abdomen and pelvis showed a large left sided retroperitoneal haematoma with evidence of pelvico-ureteric leak on the left and an associated fluid collection. The patient was taken to theatre for urgent re-laparotomy.

At the conclusion of the operation, the surgical team was unable to close the abdomen due to significant bowel oedema. They accepted a laparostomy and returned the patient to ICU with a negative pressure wound dressing in-situ. Post-operatively, there was significant improvement in lung compliance, vasopressor requirement and urine output. Enteral feeding was quickly re-established. The abdomen was closed during the same hospital admission and the patient survived-to-discharge home. At no point was this patient’s intra-abdominal pressure measured.


Describe the management of intra-abdominal hypertension.

Christopher Westall

Intra-abdominal hypertension (IAH)- abdominal compartment syndrome (ACS) is a well-recognised cause of morbidity and mortality in critically ill patients, rising to prominence in the 1990s with increased early survival of patients with intra-abdominal pathology requiring emergent laparotomy (principally abdominal aortic aneurysm repair and blunt trauma).1,2 IAH/ ACS may be precipitated by a range of insults local (primary IAH) and distant (secondary IAH) to the abdomen.3 The syndrome encompasses a spectrum of severity and there are a range of treatment options, though with little high quality evidence to support these.

The World Society of the Abdominal Compartment Syndrome (WSACS) consensus guidelines recommend that intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) is measured using the trans-bladder technique in any critically ill patient with an associated risk factor for IAH. The normal value for IAP is <12mmHg. IAH is then categorized by increasing pressure increments from grade I (IAP 12-15mmHg) to grade IV (>25mmHg). Abdominal compartment syndrome is defined as sustained IAP >20mmHg associated with new organ dysfunction.3

The WSACS Consensus proposes a management algorithm for IAH/ ACS that is loosely analogous to commonly encountered algorithms for managing raised intracranial pressure The abdomen is considered a fixed compartment with intra-luminal and extra-luminal volumes that can be manipulated through neutral-negative fluid balance, nasogastric and colonic decompression and percutaneous drainage of ascites/collections. In this instance, however, the compliance of the “box”, the abdominal wall, can also be manipulated by patient position, ventilatory strategy and neuromuscular blockade. Decompressive [laparotomy] therapy is reserved for algorithm failure.

The efficacy of protocolised management of IAH/ACS has never been demonstrated. A single prospective observational study suggested reduction in morbidity and mortality using algorithm based management of IAH; the authors quoted an increase in survival-to-discharge rate from 50 to 72% (p= 0.015) across 6 years with improved rates of same-admission closure. However the study was single centre, recruiting patients only after the laparostomy, with substantial selection and observer bias. Furthermore it was unclear which parts of the protocol were effective.4 While the basic principles underlying the WCASC 2013 algorithm are sensible, it must be acknowledged that proposed therapies such as resuscitation with hypertonic fluids, diuretic-driven diuresis and ultrafiltration through renal replacement therapies have no evidence to support them and have potentially serious implications for the patient.

Given that the efficacy of protocolised management of IAH/ACS is uncertain, is there then any evidence to support the measurement of IAP in every “at risk” patient, especially since the list of risk factors for IAH is so extensive that it is difficult to imagine a critically ill patient that is not at risk. This would not be without significant task-burden to critical care nursing staff, and as with any clinical index in ICU, risks morbidity from misinterpretation. There are only two small studies that have examined whether clinical examination can reliably predict intra-abdominal pressure; both small studies with significant methodological flaws and both conducted between 1996- 2000 when awareness of IAH was comparatively low. Importantly both studies compared examination to IAP measurement at pressures well below 20mmHg, where there is little evidence that specific intervention improves patient outcome, beyond highlighting that that patient is at risk of ACS.5,6

Decompressive laparotomy is recommended for the treatment of all patients with ACS refractory to medical therapy.3 In modern practice it is difficult to accurately assess the performance of this strategy in primary IAH/ACS, such is the absence of clinical equipoise. As many reviews acknowledge, the improvement in patient survival rates associated with primary laparostomy in abdominal trauma patients in the 1990s caused a fundamental paradigm shift from which it is now difficult to ethically justify alternative treatment strategies.1,2 That is to say that many patients with IAH/ ACS will now present to the ICU once decompressive laparostomy has either occurred or is imminently planned.

The benefits of decompressive laparotomy in secondary ACS are certainly less; data exists only for acute severe pancreatitis and sepsis associated with secondary peritonitis. While in both instances it must be acknowledged that laparostomy reduces IAP, like many interventions in a critically ill patient population, this does not translate into mortality benefit.7,8 As commentators note, laparostomy may often be performed because of a conceptual benefit of relook-laparotomy 48 hours later, rather than inability to close the abdomen or specific concerns regarding ACS.2 Indeed, regarding secondary peritonitis, there is good evidence that primary closure with on-demand re-laparotomy is non-inferior to laparostomy and planned re-laparotomy, and is associated with fewer surgeries and lower healthcare costs.9 This strategy is now [weakly] endorsed by the WCACS.3

One point that is widely agreed upon is the management of laparostomy. It appears universally agreed that negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT, i.e. “vac dressings”), with or without a form of dynamic retention system, is superior to previously popular methods such as bioprosthetic mesh and Bogota bag. The largest systematic review on the subject suggests that NPWT is associated with improved rates of primary delayed fascial closure (57.8%, 95% CI 50.8- 64.7) and mortality (22.3%, 95% CI 17.5- 27.5) with lower rates of entero-atmospheric fistulation (7.0%, 95% CI 5.0- 9.3) and abscess formation (4.2%, 95% CI 2.3- 6.9).10 This systematic review heavily influenced the most recent NICE review on the topic leading to endorsement of NPWT in clinical guideline IPG467, “Negative pressure wound therapy for the open abdomen” (2013).


The measurement of IAP in all at-risk critically ill patients is probably unnecessary and burdensome in resource terms. Critical care practitioners should have a low index of suspicion for ACS in their patients; if this develops then decompressive laparotomy is the treatment of choice (unless there is a large extra-luminal collection amenable to urgent drainage), particularly since modern laparostomy management appears to be associated with an increasingly low complication rate, if the abdomen cannot be closed.

The consensus guidelines for IAH/ACS remind us that attention to detail; such as ensuring that enteral nutrition is succeeding, that bowel care is optimal and that fluid balance is tightly controlled, may prevent numerous serious ICU-associated syndromes from ever developing.


1. Balogh ZJ, Lumsdaine W, Moore EE, Moore FA. Postinjury abdominal compartment syndrome: from recognition to prevention. Lancet,  2014; 384:1466-75

2. Leppaniemi AK. Laparostomy: why and when? Critical Care 2010; 14: 216. DOI: 10.1186/cc8857

3. Kirkpatrick AW, Roberts DJ, De Waele J, Jaeschke R, Malbrain MLNG, De Keulenaer B, Duchesne J, Bjorck M, Leppaniemi A, Ejike JC, Sugrue M, et al.  Intra-abdominal compartment syndrome: updated consensus definitions and clinical practice guidelines from the World Society of the Abdominal Compartment Syndrome. Intensive Care Med, 2013; 39:1190-1206

4. Cheatham ML, Safcsak KRN. Is the evolving management of intra-abdominal hypertension and abdominal compartment syndrome improving survival? Crit Care Med,  2010; 38:402-407

5. Kirkpatrick AW, Brenneman FD, McLean RF, Rapanos T, Boulanger BR. Is clinical examination an accurate indicator of raised intra-abdominal pressure in critically injured patients? Can J Surg, 2000:43:207-11

6. Sugrue M, Bauman A, Jones F, Bishop G, Flabouris A, Parr M, Stewart A, Hillman K, Deane SA. Clinical examination is an inaccurate predictor of intra-abdominal pressure. World J Surg, 2002; 26:1428-31

7. Mentula P, Hienonen P, Kemppainen E, Puolakkainen P, Leppaniemi A. Surgical decompression for abdominal compartment syndrome in severe acute pancreatitis. Arch Surg, 2010; 145:764-9

8. Robledo FA, Luque-de-Leon E, Suarez R, Sanchez P, de la Fuente M, Vargas A, Mier J. Open versus closed management of the abdomen in the surgical treatment of severe secondary peritonitis: a randomized clinical trial. Surg Infect (Larchmt), 2007; 8:63–72

9. van Ruler O, Mahler CW, Boer KR, Reuland EA, Gooszen HG, Opmeer BC, de Graaf PW, Lamme B, Gerhards MF, Steller EP, van Till JW, et al. Comparison of on-demand vs planned relaparotomy strategy in patients with severe peritonitis: a randomized trial. JAMA, 2007; 298:865-73

10. Quyn AJ, Johnston C, Hall D, Chambers A, Arapova N, Ogston S, Amin AI. The open abdomen and temporary abdominal closure systems- historical evolution and systematic review. Colorectal Dis, 2012; 14: e429–38


Hyponatraemia and Renal Replacement Therapy

A 63 year old woman was admitted to the ICU from the Emergency Department with acute alcohol withdrawal, severe hyponatraemia (serum sodium level 114mmol/L), rhabdomyolysis (creatine kinase 46930u/L) and acute kidney injury (serum creatinine 262umol/L, urea 8.7mmol/L, potassium 4.6mmol/L, base excess -6.8 and anuric from the point of admission). Her corrected calcium level was 1.92mmol/L. She had been discovered on the floor at home after a presumed fall. It was unknown how long she had been on the floor, but there were extensive pressure injuries to the left elbow, buttocks and left leg. A CT scan of the brain had excluded significant acute intracranial pathology and a 12 lead ECG showed atrial fibrillation at a rate of 130 beats per minute.

The patient was intubated and mechanically ventilated to allow emergency treatment. She was sedated with remifentanil and propofol. Intravenous pabrinex and enteral chlordiazepoxide was given to treat her alcohol withdrawal, aiming for early extubation if possible. A low-dose noradrenaline infusion was required to maintain a mean arterial pressure ≥65mmHg. Calcium replacement was prescribed and full pressure relief measures were instituted. No specific treatment was given to rate control or cardiovert the patient.

The patient was clinically hypovolaemic, but since the duration of hyponatraemia was unknown (with suspicion of some chronicity related to alcohol dependence), aggressive fluid resuscitation was avoided. Continuous veno-veno haemodiafiltration (CVVHDF) was commenced using standard replacement fluid at a post-filter replacement rate of 10ml/kg/hr-1 and dialysate flow rate of 10ml/kg/hr-1 (blood pump at 200ml/hr). Concomitantly, a 5% dextrose infusion was administered; the rate of infusion and net fluid loss through ultrafiltration were adjusted constantly with a view to restoring euvolaemia over 24 hours while increasing serum sodium to a maximum level of 120mmol/L over the same time period. This strategy was continued the following day with a target sodium of 128mmol/L, thereafter tight control of sodium correction was relaxed.

She was extubated on day 3 and renal replacement was discontinued on day 4. The patient was discharged from ICU on day 6. At the point of discharge her serum sodium concentration was stable at 142mmol/L. She was neurologically intact.

What are the challenges in managing hyponatraemia in critically ill patients?Read More »

Thrombotic Thrombocytopaenic Purpura

A previously fit and well 64 year old gentleman presented to the acute medical unit with a two-week history of lethargy, bruising, dark urine and an episode of transient facial numbness, blurred vision and dysarthria lasting 30 minutes. Clinical examination revealed mild jaundice, multiple bruises and a palpable liver edge but was otherwise normal. His respiratory rate was 14 breaths/minute with normal oxygen saturations. He was in sinus rhythm with a pulse of 68 beats/minute and non-invasive blood pressure was 130/70. He was GCS 15 and was apyrexial.

His full blood count revealed a haemoglobin of 94 g/L, platelets 9 x109/L, and white cell count 9 x109/L. A blood film showed red cell fragmentation, spherocytes, polychromasia, poikilocytosis and no platelet clumps. Reticulocytes and lactate dehydrogenase were raised at 168.6 x 109/L and 3027 iu/L respectively. Liver function tests revealed a bilirubin of 49 µmol/L but were otherwise normal. A liver ultrasound showed fatty infiltration. Clotting was normal and direct antiglobulin test negative. Urea and electrolytes were normal, creatinine 80 µmol/L and the C reactive protein was 37. ADAMTS13 assay showed complete absence of activity. CT brain was normal.

He was reviewed by the haematologists who diagnosed thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura and referred him to the intensive care unit for plasma exchange. He received a three-day course of methylprednisolone, was intubated due to agitation, received plasma exchange with octaplas replacement that increased from 2 litre to 5 litre exchanges, and rituximab 750mg.

He deteriorated progressively with: vomiting, anaemia requiring blood transfusions, worsening thrombocytopenia, acute kidney injury with a peak creatinine of 457 µmol/L, an inferior ST elevation myocardial infarction, and a posterior cerebral artery territory infarct.

On day 5 he developed fixed and dilated pupils. Mannitol 1g/kg was administered and an urgent CT brain performed. This revealed multiple infarcts in both cerebral hemispheres and right cerebellum, loss of grey-white differentiation, 5mm midline shift and low cerebellar tonsils.

After discussion with the neurosurgeons it was decided this was an unrecoverable injury. In agreement with his family, end of life care was instituted and he died within 24 hours.

Describe the management of Thrombotic Thrombocytopaenic Purpura.Read More »

Transplantation After Brainstem Death

A 38-year-old previously fit man suffered a grade five subarachnoid haemorrhage. Attempts at coiling failed and he suffered a catastrophic rebleed on-table whereupon his pupils became fixed and dilated. After a suitable sedation washout period he underwent testing which confirmed brainstem death at which point he was referred to the specialist nurse for organ donation. Following counselling of the family and appropriate assessment, donation of his kidneys, liver and heart was agreed.

Upon confirmation of brainstem death, mechanical ventilation was continued to ensure PaO2 greater than 10 kPa and limit peak inflation pressure to less than 30 cmH20. Vasoactive support was switched from noradrenaline to vasopressin 0.02 iu/kg/min. Methylprednisolone and intravenous triiodothyronine were administered whilst awaiting harvest. Blood antibody testing for HIV1+2, Hepatitis B and C, HTLV-1 and CMV IgG were all negative. A transthoracic echocardiogram confirmed good biventricular function; following discussion with the transplant retrieval team a pulmonary artery catheter was floated. Clinical measurements of cardiac output and mixed venous oxygen saturation were satisfactory. Adequate hydration was maintained with crystalloid by infusion and glucose control optimised in the range 8-10 mmol/L with insulin. The dedicated retrieval team performed the organ retrieval eighteen hours after confirmation of brainstem death.

How can we optimise organ function for organ donation?Read More »

Pneumococcal Sepsis

An elderly man with a background of ischaemic heart disease, severe aortic stenosis and type 2 diabetes mellitus presented following recent travel from Hong Kong with shortness of breath and hypoxia. A chest X-ray confirmed left lower lobe consolidation (CRP 502, WCC 22) and he was commenced on broad spectrum antibiotics (Tazocin and Clarithromycin). Over the following 12 hours he deteriorated on the ward, with worsening hypoxia, hypotension and anuria.

He required emergency admission to intensive care for intubation and ventilation, and required inotropic support. He developed a severe metabolic acidosis and rising lactate, for which  haemofiltration was commenced. Vasopressin was added, followed by dobutamine, and hydrocortisone started for inotrope resistant hypotension. He remained ventilated on 100% oxygen, with high pressure support. He had a positive pneumococcal antigen, and high dose benzylpenicillin was added to his antibiotic regime, along with Oseltamivir (Tamiflu). Despite 12 hours of intensive therapy his acidosis worsened and he failed to respond to increasing doses of inotropic support, dying 30 hours after presentation to hospital.

What are the clinical features of pneumococcal sepsis?Read More »

Metformin Associated Lactic Acidosis

Metformin Associated Lactic Acidosis

A 65-year-old female, presented with epigastric pain and a 3-day history of diarrhoea and vomiting, dry mouth and breathlessness. She had also experienced a transient loss of vision three days earlier. Her past medical history included type 2 Diabetes, hypertension (on ramipril), hypothyroidism. On arrival, her GCS was 15/15. She was tachypnoeic (respiratory rate 31 breaths/minute) but maintained oxygen saturations at 98% on high-flow oxygen. On auscultation, she had bibasal crepitations.  She was tachycardic (irregularly irregular pulse of 130 beats/minute), had cool peripheries and dry mucous membranes. Her BP was 105/39mmHg. She had tenderness in her lower abdomen. Her initial arterial blood gas revealed a marked metabolic acidosis (pH <6.8, pO2 23.1, pCO2 1.9) with unrecordable bicarbonate and lactate levels. She was referred to the surgical and critical care teams with a working diagnosis of ischaemic bowel secondary to an embolic phenomenon (atrial fibrillation and possible amaurosis fugax).

She was resuscitated in ED with 4 litres of crystalloid but rapidly deteriorated, requiring vasopressor support to maintain her blood pressure. Her metabolic disturbance did not not correct with resuscitation and her lactate now registered as >15. Bloods showed Na 140, K+ 6.3, urea 35, Cr 1105. A decision to intubate was made in view of a deteriorating conscious level and need for urgent filtration and invasive monitoring. Noradrenaline (0.3mcg/kg/min) and dobutamine (26mcg/kg/min) were required to achieve a satisfactory blood pressure and she was commenced on CVVHDF. She was considered to unstable for transfer to CT or an emergency laparotomy. Her metabolic disturbance remained severe (pH<6.8 and lactate 13.9).

Within 24 hours her metabolic state had improved (pH 7.19, pO2 7.19, PCO2 2.5, HCO3 10, BE -28.1, Lac 6.7) and she became more cardiovascular stability. A CT effectively excluded an intra-abdominal catastrophe. Renal failure secondary to dehydration complicated by Metformin Associated Lactic Acidosis (MALA) appeared to be the most likely presentation. Her condition continue to stabilise and her vasopressor support and RRT was weaned over the next 7-10 days

What are the risk factors, clinical features and management of metformin associated lactic acidosis?Read More »

Ethylene Glycol Poisoning

Ethylene Glycol Poisoning

A 50 year old man was found by the roadside by paramedics with a GCS of 13. On arrival he had a patent airway, but a GCS of 5 (E1 M3 V1). He had an elevated respiratory rate (30/min) and a profound metabolic acidosis (pH 6.97 pO2 16.8 pCO2 1.68 HCO3 2.8 BXS -30.8 COHb 0). The lactate was too high to be measured by the blood gas analyser and there was an elevated anion gap [(147+5.5) – (2.8+ 109) = 40.7] He was cardiovascularly stable with warm peripheries. His ECG revealed a prolonged QTc. He was intubated and 8.4% sodium bicarbonate was administered. His initial laboratory bloods showed CRP 11, white cell count 29.5 CK 2539 creatinine 213. Ethanol levels were <10 and Paracetamol and salicylate levels were within normal limits. He was given a dose of intravenous cefotaxime and his urine was sent for organic acids screening which revealed an enormous peak of glycolic acid and small increase in oxalic acid, consistent with an overdose of ethylene glycol.

After arrival in intensive care, the sodium bicarbonate had improved the pH to 7.2, with a residual lactaemia (15 as measured in the laboratory, without any interference from glycolic acid). CVVHDF was commenced. In order to inhibit futher metabolism of the ethylene glycol, 10% ethanol was commenced until fomepizole was available (an initial bolus of 800ml, followed by an infusion at 180ml/hr). Ethanol levels were monitored. Fomepizole was administered later that day abd the ethanol stopped (15mg/kg loading and 1mg/kg/hr). The renal function deteriorated despite CVVHDF (peaked at urea 28, creatinine 724 on day 4), which was continued for 5 days. Treatment for aspiration pneumonia was started in day 1 and cardiovascular support was continued (noradrenaline). Intermittent boluses of glycopyrolate were required to treat the bradycardia associated with fomepizole. A gradual improvement occurred and he had made a full neurological recovery within 2 weeks, with much improved renal function. He later admitted to drinking 250ml of antifreeze.

What are the clinical features and management of ethylene glycol poisoning?Read More »

Medical Management of Abdominal Compartment Syndrome

Medical Management of Abdominal Compartment Syndrome

An elderly man was admitted after a Hartman’s procedure with primary closure for a perforated sigmoid diverticulum with four quadrant peritonitis. Postoperatively, he remained ventilated and noradrenaline dependent. His intra-abdominal pressures gradually rose from 15 to 24mmHg. Urine output was poor, and he required peak pressures of 28cmH2O to achieve 6ml/kg tidal volumes. Vasopressor requirements gradually increased and a diagnosis of abdominal compartment syndrome was made. Medical management was attempted with fluid resuscitation, increased sedation, aspiration of nasogastric tube and neuromuscular blockade. However this did not improve the intra-abdominal pressures so the patient returned to theatre laparostomy and VAC dressing. On return from theatre, intra-abdominal pressures stabilised between 12 and 15mmHg. Noradrenaline requirements fell and urine output improved. The abdomen was closed on day 5 and he was discharged from ICU on day 10.

What non-surgical strategies can be used to reduce intra-abdominal pressure?

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Hepatorenal Syndrome

Hepatorenal Syndrome

A 54 year old man with a history of alcohol excess was admitted under the medical team with an upper gastro-intestinal bleed. He had a background of pulmonary fibrosis that limited his exercise tolerance to 30 yards. Antibiotics, terlipressin and fluid resuscitation, including blood, were given. An oesophago-gastro-duodenoscopy demonstrated severe portal gastropathy but no active bleeding or varices. An abdominal ultrasound demonstrated cirrhosis and some moderate ascites. On day two of the patient’s hospital admission he was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) with respiratory failure and non-invasive ventilation was started. Over the next few days his condition deteriorated and he required vasopressor support. By day 6 the patient was oliguric, and his creatinine had risen from 102 to 155 µmoles/l.

What is the cause for his acute kidney injury? Could it be hepatorenal syndrome? Read More »