Thrombolysis and Intermediate-Risk Pulmonary Embolism


A 40 year old woman was admitted to the emergency department (ED) after a syncopal episode. On admission she was in acute respiratory distress and described a two day history of sudden onset breathlessness. She had no previous medical history. Her only regular medication was the oral contraceptive pill. She had had a recent flu-like illness and been less active than usual. On arrival she had a respiratory rate of 30 breaths/minute with accessory muscle use. An ABG on 15L/min oxygen via non-rebreathe mask showed type I respiratory failure (PO2 8.4kPa). She was tachycardic (120bpm) and blood pressure was 98/50. Chest x-ray and bloods were unremarkable although her ECG revealed a sinus tachycardia with right axis deviation, Q waves and inverted T waves in lead III.

The patient had a bedside echocardiogram that revealed a severely dilated right ventricle with poor tricuspid annulus planar systolic excursion (TAPSE). A presumed diagnosis of a pulmonary embolism (PE) was made. Thrombolytic therapy was considered but rejected at this point, in view of the haemodynamic stability. The patient was commenced on enoxaparin at a dose of 1.5mg/kg.

CT pulmonary angiography confirmed the presence of bilateral pulmonary emboli. On return from CT the patient was sat up briefly at which time she became cyanotic and had a brief self-terminating seizure. During this time her blood pressure was not recordable, and significant hypotension secondary to obstructive shock was assumed to be the cause. At this point it was decided to proceed with thrombolysis. The patient was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit, made a rapid recovery without the need for vasopressors or intubation and ventilation, and was discharged from hospital a few days later.

What is the evidence for intravenous thrombolysis for intermediate-risk pulmonary embolism? Read More »


Extracorporeal CO2 removal

A 42 year old man presented with a week-long history of increasing shortness of breath, cough  (productive of purulent sputum) and fevers on a background of significant chronic lung disease. He had a ten year history of interstitial lung disease and was on the waiting list for a lung transplant. He used oxygen at a rate of 2 litres per minute at home, 24 hours a day. His usual exercise tolerance of 200 metres had been significantly reduced for the past week. His regular medications included seretide and salbutamol inhalers, lansoprazole, azathioprine, prednisolone alendronate.

On arrival in hospital, he was alert and orientated. He had a patent airway, but was tachypnoeic (rate of 50/minute) using his respiratory accessory muscles and a tracheal tug was evident. An arterial blood gas revealed type two respiratory failure (pH 7.26; pO2 8.14, pCO2 7.52 on 15 liters/min of face mask oxygen). He was hypotensive (80/40mmHg) and tachycardic (130/minute, sinus rhythm). A pyrexia of 39.2°C was recorded. Blood results showed normal renal function, a slightly elevated white cell count of 14.

The patient was admitted to the high dependency for close monitoring in view of his history and presentation. He was commenced on treatment for a presumed infection (viral or bacterial) with oseltamivir, co-amoxiclav and clarithromycin and given three “pulsed” doses (750mg) of methylprednisolone. He remained stable for the next twelve hours.

Early the next morning, he became very hypoxic (oxygen saturations less than 50%), bradycardic (<35 beats per minute) and had a brief hypoxic respiratory arrest. He received 1 cycle of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and was intubated. There was subsequently a return of spontaneous circulation.

The next 24 hours involved a period of difficulty with ventilation. His peak airway pressures were very high, despite being paralysed and a low volume/high respiratory rate strategy being employed. He was discussed with a tertiary respiratory centre and it was decided that he should be transferred for insertion of a pumpless arteriovenous interventional lung assist (for extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal) as a bridge prior to lung transplantation. He had formal ultrasound measurement of his femoral arteries. His left common femoral artery was widely patent (AP and transverse diameter of 8-9mm throughout), but the right was only 4-5mm throughout.

In the meantime, his peak airway pressures were consistently between 35 and 40cmH2O, despite tidal volumes of 230ml, 3.8ml/kg). With a rate of 32-35 breaths per minute, his pH was  initially maintained above 7.2, with a pCO2 of 9-11kPa. Over the course of the next few hours, this became increasingly difficult to achieve. His oxygen requirements did not escalate (an FiO2 of 0.6 provided a pO2 of 8-9kPa). When his pCO2 increased to 15.4kPa and his pH dropped to 7.17, further adjustments were made and the PEEP decreased to 5cmH2O from 10cmH2O. His noradrenaline requirements were increasing and with the aid of the cardiac output monitoring, he was cautiously given fluid with a good response.

He was transferred to the centre in which a lung transplant could be performed within hours of the referral. A Novalung device was inserted and he underwent a bilateral lobar lung transplant several days later. He was in hospital for 6 weeks and made a very good long-term recovery. At six months, he was extremely well and was undertaking his activities of daily living completely normally with stable lung function. He even managed to complete an eight mile bike ride.

What is the rationale for extracorporeal lung assist?
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Arthrogryposis & Paediatric Difficult Airway


A 4 month old infant with arthropgryposis multiplex congenital was admitted to the paediatric assessment unit. The infant had been acutely unwell over the preceding 12 hours with respiratory compromise and a productive cough with green sputum. He had signs of respiratory distress with a RR of 40, pulse oximetry showed SpO2 of 85% on air and only 90% with a facemask, reservoir bag and high flow oxygen. It was felt that the infant would need to be intubated and ventilated. Two months before the infant had had a respiratory arrest on the neonatal ward and was unable to be intubated. That situation was resolved by mask ventilation and rescue with an LMA. There were obvious concerns that direct laryngoscopy would be unsuccessful and may precipitate a terminal decline in the patient’s condition.

The infant’s breathing was supported by bag/mask ventilation whilst he was transferred to an ENT theatre. Further anaesthetic support and an ENT surgeon were sought. I.v. access was established through a scalp vein. Ventilation was switched to an Ayres T piece with Jackson-Rees modification. Induction of anaesthesia was initiated with sevoflurane and oxygen. Direct laryngoscopy showed a Lehane and Cormack grade 4 view.

A rigid bronchoscope with video camera monitor was used by the ENT surgeon to obtain a view of the glottis. An epidural catheter was placed down the side port of the bronchoscope and was directed through the vocal cords. The bronchoscope was removed and a fine bore suction catheter was railroaded over the epidural catheter to give more stiffness. The positions of the end of the catheters were checked with the bronchoscope. A size 3.0cm uncuffed endotracheal tube was then railroaded over the catheters into trachea. Position and length were confirmed with the bronchoscope and ventilation was continued. The arrangement is shown in Figure 1.

The child was then transferred to the adult ICU where a retrieval team arrived to transfer the patient to a PICU.

What is arthrogryposis? Describe some methods for achieving control of the difficult paediatric airway.Read More »

Management of Inhalational Injury

A 30-year-old man with no significant past medical history was admitted to ED from a house fire started by a piece of faulty electrical equipment. There were superficial skin burns only but some evidence of a possible inhalation injury with singed nasal hairs and a hoarse voice. Coughing resulted in expectoration of carbonaceous sputum with some haemoptysis. Arterial blood gas analysis revealed a PaO2 of 10.4 kPa on 40% oxygen a carboxyhaemoglobin level of 18%.

Semi-elective endotracheal intubation was performed using an uncut orotracheal tube. Ventilatory parameters were adjusted to give a tidal volume of 6-8 ml/kg and plateau pressure of less than 30 cmH20. Recruitment manouveres were performed to give an optimum compliance in the region of 40-50 ml/cmH20 with a positive end-expiratory pressure of 8 H20. The inspired fraction of oxygen was kept high (i.e. greater than 60%) until there was a fall of the carboxyhaemoglobin level to less than 5% at which point downwards titration was performed as guided by a target SpO2 of 94%.

Fibreoptic bronchoscopy was performed approximately six hours after admission to intensive care which demonstrated carbonaceous colonisation of the lower respiratory tract and areas of erythematous and denuded epithelium. Within 12 hours of intubation significant oedema of the face and upper airway had developed. A restrictive fluid regimen was instituted and there was gradual resolution of this swelling over the next 3 days. At this time, gas exchange was satisfactory and the patient was successfully extubated before being discharged to the high-dependency unit.

How is inhalational injury managed on the ICU?Read More »

Scoring Systems for Acute Hepatic Dysfunction

Scoring Systems for Acute Hepatic Dysfunction

A 40 year old was admitted to hospital with his first presentation of alcoholic liver disease with symptoms of jaundice (bilirubin 248), poor mobility, hallucinations and passing of black stool. On admission to hospital, he was lethargic with features of Grade II encephalopathy, was coagulopathic (INR 3.1), had deranged electrolytes (sodium 114, potassium 2.9), but a normal creatinine (54) and a raised white cell count (15.9). He was haemodynamically stable and had a haemoglobin of 119g/L with no signs of active bleeding. His abdomen was distended (ascites), he was visibly jaundiced and had spider naevi on his chest. An abdominal ultrasound was performed that showed liver cirrhosis, borderline splenomegaly, small volume ascites and normal kidneys. A full liver screen revealed no infective cause and his AST:ALT ratio suggested alcoholic liver disease. His prognostic indicator scores were all suggestive of severe alcoholic liver hepatitis (Maddrey score: 131; Childs: C; Lille Score: 1; GAHS: 10; MELD: 29). His serum ammonia level was 170. He was commenced on terlipressin, prednisolone and pentoxyphylline and thiamine. Despite this, his encephalopathy progressed to grade 4 and he required intubation and ventilation for airway protection and a presumed aspiration pneumonia. His liver function and coagulopathy continued to worsen, and he developed an acute kidney injury necessitating commencement of renal replacement therapy. He required noradrenaline to support his blood pressure. Ascitic tap ruled out spontaneous bacterial peritonitis. He was discussed with regional liver centres, but was not felt to be a transplant candidate. His liver and renal function continued to deteriorate and eventually treatment was withdrawn nearly 3 weeks into his admission.

Describe the scoring systems for assessing the severity of acute hepatic dysfunction.

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Nutrition in Acute Pancreatitis

Nutrition in Acute Pancreatitis

A 55-year-old previously healthy lady was admitted with pancreatitis secondary to gallstones. Her admission modified Glasgow Score was 4, and CT scan showed approximately 70% necrosis of the pancreas encompassing the neck, body and tail with sparing of the head. She rapidly developed ARDS, AKI and vasoplegia, and subsequently developed abdominal compartment syndrome requiring decompressive laparotomy. Her later complications included intraabdominal collections requiring percutaneous drainage, upper GI bleeding, and staged closure of her laparostomy. She was initially commenced on enteral NG feeding but developed high NG aspirates despite pro-kinetics. Parenteral nutrition (PN) was commenced in combination with a ‘trophic’ enteral feed. Four weeks into her admission her triglyceride level was found to be elevated, necessitating lipid free PN and cessation of propofol. This led to a drop in her triglyceride level.

How should we manage the provision of nutrition in acute pancreatitis?

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Critical Care Echocardiography

Critical Care Echocardiography

A 34 year old IV drug abuser was admitted with respiratory failure, bilateral patchy changes on chest X-ray, raised inflammatory markers and septic shock. She was intubated and commenced on antibiotics and noradrenaline. An in-house Focussed Intensive Care Echo was performed to guide fluid resuscitation. This was suggestive of hypovolaemia, but a large mobile mass was also observed in the left ventricular chamber. A departmental echo the next day confirmed the presence of a large vegetation on the anterior mitral valve leaflet with severe mitral regurgitation. She underwent a further period of stabilisation and underwent a mitral valve replacement.

What is the evidence for the development of in-house echocardiography skills within the critical care setting?Read More »