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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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


Invasive Fungal Infections on ICU

A 42 year old woman was admitted to the intensive care unit with necrotising pancreatitis. She required sedation and mechanical, vasopressors to maintain adequate mean arterial pressure and extensive crystalloid resuscitation. Enteral nutrition was initially maintained via nasogastric feeding. She was treated with empirical broad-spectrum antibiotics (meropenem) and was prescribed antifungal prophylaxis (fluconazole) at the request of the hepatobiliary surgical team.


The patient experienced a prolonged systemic inflammatory response syndrome. She ultimately underwent a pancreatic necrosectomy and required recurrent radiologically-guided percutaneous drainage of intra-abdominal collections. For a large proportion of her ICU admission, enteral nutrition failed and the patient required total parenteral nutrition. Candida albicans was isolated from central venous catheter exits sites, drain exit sites, drain fluid, urine and sputum on several occasions, but there was never any evidence of invasive fungal disease.

The patient was eventually discharged from ICU and survived to discharge from hospital. She was left dependent on pancreatic enzyme replacement and subcutaneous insulin therapy.

Describe the incidence, clinical features and management of fungal infections in non-neutropaenic, non-transplant critical care patients.Read More »

Graft versus Host Disease

A 34-year-old woman received a small bowel, pancreas and abdominal wall transplant.

Despite the operation being technically very difficult and prolonged, she initially recovered well after the procedure and her transplanted bowel started to work. However, after a few days she started developing respiratory complications eventually requiring re-intubation despite antibiotics. She went on to develop multi-organ dysfunction requiring vasopressor support and renal replacement therapy. Antifungals and co-trimoxazole were added, with no additional benefit noted.

A skin rash started to develop, which raised the suspicion of Graft versus Host Disease (GvHD). A diagnostic test was performed (chimerism of peripheral blood leucocytes), and it confirmed the diagnosis of GvHD.

Doses of immunosuppressants such as tacrolimus, mycophenolate mofetil were increased and steroids were started too.

An experimental therapy of mesenchymal stem cells infusion was also employed, but she continued to deteriorate further and she eventually died after a prolonged admission on ICU.

Graft versus Host Disease – what it is, how to diagnose it, how to treat itRead 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 »

The Role of Antibiotics in Acute Pancreatitis

A 65-year-old woman was admitted with a two-day history of feeling non-specifically unwell, severe upper abdominal pain, anorexia and vomiting. On examination she was tachycardic, hypotensive with epigastric tenderness and guarding. Admission amylase was 1024 mmol/L. A diagnosis of acute pancreatitis was made and she was admitted for conservative management with IV fluids and analgaesia. Her initial Ranson score was 3 placing her at moderate risk of of death. Abdominal ultrasound scanning showed a swollen pancreas with a small amount of free fluid but no gallstones or obstruction to the biliary system. Over the next twelve hours she deteriorated on the ward, developing type 1 respiratory failure for which she was referred to intensive care.

On admission to ITU she was semi-electively intubated and ventilated. A low-dose infusion of noradrenaline required to achieve adequate mean arterial pressure. A CT scan showed inflammatory changes and free fluid around the pancreas with possible early pseudocyst formation but no necrotic areas. Two hours after admission she became pyrexial at 39.5°C with a modest increase in her noradrenaline requirements. Peripheral blood cultures were taken and empirical imipenem started following discussion with microbiology. Subsequent repeated microbiological cultures of blood, ascitic fluid, urine and sputum were negative. A nasojejunal tube was passed to allow enteral feeding.

Over the next 48 hours her sedation was weaned and her respiratory function improved. Vasculitis screens, viral serology, lipids, etc. were all negative or normal. Despite her clinical improvement she remained pyrexial with an elevated CRP and white cell count. Further microbiological sampling was unhelpful, serum procalcitonin middling and repeat CT scan showed maturation of her pseduocyst. Fine needle aspiration was performed and subsequently proved culture negative. Her imipenem was stopped after 7 days after gradual resolution of her noradrenaline requirements. Surgical tracheostomy was performed on day 11 to facilitate ventilatory weaning and she was discharged to the ward on day 21.

What is the role for antibiotics in acute pancreatitis?Read More »

ICP Monitoring and Acute Liver Failure

ICP Monitoring and Acute Liver Failure

A 28-year-old lady presented to the medical team jaundiced with cramping upper abdominal pain and multiple episodes of vomiting over the previous day. She admitted ingesting Paracetamol 8 grams 3 days previously (staggered throughout the day) ostensibly to treat a frontal headache. She had been commenced on Citalopram 1 week previously for depression but denied taking any intentional overdose. On examination, she was slightly drowsy but GCS 15. HR 109, BP 136/92. Sats 98%on air. Her chest was clear, she was warm peripherally but jaundiced with some epigastric and RUQ tenderness on palpation. Her urine output was 10-20ml/hr.

Full Blood Count revealed Hb 152, WCC 24.7, Plats 301. She was in acute liver failure with Bil 189, AST 22970, ALT 13040, ALP 426 and coagulopathic with PT 82, APTT 72, Fib 0.7 Urea 5.7, Cr 193. Paracetamol and Salicylate were not detected. She was not acidotic with H+ 35, OCI2 3.7, pO2 17, Bic 20, BE –3. Lactate 7.1.

She was commenced on N-acetylcysteine and transferred to Critical Care. She was reviewed by the Hepatobiliary surgical team and placed on the super-urgent list for liver transplant. 

On Day 2, she became encephalopathic with GCS E3M5V5 and she was intubated and ventilated.Her PT had increased to 168 (INR >15) and she became anuric. She commenced FFP and Cryoprecipitate transfusions that improved her PT to 17, APTT 34 and Fibrinogen 1.5. An Intracranial Pressure (ICP) monitor was inserted and an opening pressure of 19mmHg was found. 2 hours post-insertion, it was noticed that her right pupil had increased in size from 2mm to 4mm and was poorly reactive. ICP remained at 16 and pCO2 4.1.

A brain CT showed a large haematoma in the right frontal region around the ICP bolt (which was not in the brain parenchyma but sitting in the skull) and mass effect with 5mm midline shift. There was also some lack of grey-white matter differentiation and sulcal effacement in keeping with diffuse oedema and mass effect.

INR was 1.7 and so further FFP was given. She was discussed with the neurosurgical registrar (in a separate hospital) who advised they would not drain at present but he would discuss with his Consultant and call back. 

Soon after, her right pupil increased to 8mm and the left to 7mm. Repeat CT brain showed slightly increased right frontal haematoma with 6mm midline shift and global oedematous cortical changes but no herniation. The ICP readings were thought to be inaccurate due to proximal placement and she was medically treated for raised ICP with hypertonic saline, mannitol and then therapeutic hypothermia. Despite this treatment, her pupils were fixed and dilated and so a thiopentone infusion was commenced.

The neurosurgeons advised that they would insert a further ICP monitor when INR <1.3 and so further FFP was given. An ICP bolt was inserted and the opening pressure was >120.

Discussions between the ICU, hepatobiliary and neurosurgical teams confirmed that she had a non-survivable injury and so this was discussed with her family. She was rewarmed, paralysis and then sedation were discontinued, brain stem death testing took place and she was extubated in the presence of her family. She died on Day 3 and was referred to the Coroner for further investigation.

What is the rationale for measuring ICP in acute liver failure?

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Enteral vs Parenteral Feeding on ICU

A 70-year-old man had been an inpatient on the intensive care unit for nearly 40 days after a complicated recovery following mitral valve replacement. He was being gradually weaned from the ventilator via tracheostomy but required no other invasive organ support. His intensive care unit stay had been complicated by recurrent respiratory sepsis treated with antibiotics and aggressive physiotherapy. Up until this point he had been fed by a nasogastric tube but began to exhibit signs suggestive of impaired absorption including large nasogastric aspirates and a requirement for higher levels of parenteral electrolyte administration.

Prokinetic treatment with metoclopramide 10mg TDS for 24 hours failed to improve the high aspirate levels which remained in excess of 300ml every four hours. Erythromycin 250mg BD was added with little improvement. Following discussion with gastroenterology colleagues an agreement to place a post-pyloric nasojejunal feeding tube was made; unfortunately this procedure was delayed by a further 48 hours as no endoscopist was free to attend. Parenteral feeding was initiated at this point in order to maintain calorific intake.

Compare enteral and parental nutrition.Read More »

Massive Transfusion in Upper Gastrointestinal Haemorrhage

A 55 year old male presented with acute upper abdominal pain and haematemesis. He had admitted drinking alcohol to excess. Following admission, he had a further significant episode of haematemesis associated with haemorrhagic shock. An emergency oesophagogastrectomy (OGD) was arranged in theatre. His pre-procedure haemoglobin was 60g/L.  OGD revealed large amounts of fresh blood in the stomach, which prevented identification of the bleeding point. The patient had a number of oesophageal varices, attempts were made to band these but this did not stop the bleeding. A partial gastrectomy was undertaken. The patient received a total of 18 units of red blood cells, 14 units of flesh frozen plasma and 2 units of platelets and cryoprecipitate before being taken to Intensive Care intubated and ventilated.

On the Intensive Care Unit he was warmed and repeat blood tests were sent to ensure correction of his coagulopathy. Haemoglobin was recorded as 9.4g/dL and the APTTr was normal. The following day when he was normothermic and cardiovascularly stable he was woken and extubated. He was discharged to the ward the following day.

When should we transfuse in upper gastro-intestinal haemorrhage? Are there any adjunctive therapies that can help?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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