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.