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 »

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 »

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 »

Heparin Induced Thrombocytopaenia


A 75 year old was admitted to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit following aortic valve replacement for severe aortic stenosis. He had no other significant past medical history. He remained intubated and ventilated overnight until cardiovascularly stable, and was extubated the following morning. He suffered bleeding into the pericardial drains, and went back to theatre on day 3. He remained intubated on his return from theatre. On day 7 it was noticed that he had developed thrombocytopenia, with a platelet count of 34, reducing from 103 the previous day. A heparin induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) screen was sent, and he was changed to alternative anticoagulation.

The HIT screen was positive. His platelet count fell further and he continued to bleed slowly from any puncture sites and from around his mouth and gums. He remained intubated and ventilated and developed a requirement for inotropic support. Transfusions of platelets were required for any intervention. He was anticoagulated with lepirudin to prevent thrombosis. His platelet count continued to remain in single figures over the next 10 days despite treatment with steroids. Unfortunately he deteriorated, suffering an arterial thrombosis in his arm, renal failure and developed a necrotic skin rash all over his body, likely to be related to the HIT. Following discussions with his family, who felt he was suffering and would not want a poor quality of life, treatment was withdrawn on day 26 of his intensive care stay and she died.

What are the clinical implications of heparin-induced thrombocytopaenia?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 »

Thrombolysis in Pulmonary Embolism

An elderly female was admitted under the care of the orthopaedic team with a 2 week history of decreased mobility due to right knee pain. She had a past medical history of chronic atrial fibrillation, treated with amiodarone, and asthma which was well controlled on salbutamol inhalers. She was not on warfarin. Bony injury was ruled out clinically and radiologically and she was treated with simple analgesia. Whilst on the ward, she deteriorated acutely after complaining of shortness of breath. A cardiac arrest call was put out.

On arrival of the cardiac arrest team, she had a cardiac output. On examination, she was hypotensive (BP 70/50 mmHg) with a heart rate of 55 bpm. She was markedly cyanosed with a respiratory rate of 30 breaths per minute with oxygen saturation of 75% on high flow oxygen through a reservoir bag. Her Glasgow Coma Score was 7 (E1V2M4). There was no evidence of calf swelling or tenderness. Arterial blood gas analysis revealed marked type 1 respiratory failure – pH 7.2, pO2 5.4kPa, pCO2 7.8kPa, HCO3 19mmol/l and lactate 4mmol/l .

She was rapidly intubated, and resuscitated with a total of four litres of crystalloids and colloids. Invasive blood pressure monitoring was established. A clinical diagnosis of acute pulmonary embolus was made. She remained unstable despite resuscitation, requiring frequent boluses of vasopressors and adrenaline thus being too unstable to be transferred for a CT pulmonary angiogram. A bedside echocardiogram showed a markedly dilated right heart with elevated right heart pressures. There was paradoxical movement of the interventricular septum. Left ventricular function was also slightly impaired.

It was decided to thrombolyse the patient. As alteplase was being readied, the patient arrested. The initial rhythm was pulseless electrical activity with a rate of 40 beats per minute. She was resuscitated as per Advanced Life Support (ALS) guidelines and received adrenaline and atropine intravenously. After two cycles of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the administration of thrombolysis, she regained cardiac output but remained hypotensive and hypoxic. An adrenaline infusion was commenced through a peripheral line. Despite this, she arrested six further times with increasing inotropic support requirement. After two hours from the initial cardiac arrest call, the decision was made to stop resuscitation.

Post-mortem results confirmed the presence of a large pulmonary embolus as well as bilateral deep venous thromboses (DVTs).

What is the evidence for the use of thrombolysis in pulmonary embolism?Read More »

Major Haemorrhage and Recombinant Factor VIIa Concentrate

Major Haemorrhage and Recombinant Factor VIIa Concentrate

A 40-year-old female intravenous drug user presented with a diffusely swollen right lower leg. She had injected heroin into her right thigh one week previously. The swelling started 3 days later. Initial observations revealed T 39.6, HR 135, NIBP 100/87, RR 32, Sats 96% on air. On examination, she was pale and sweaty. She had a swollen right lower leg with mottling of her foot and poor pedal pulses. Following initial fluid resuscitation, chest X-ray, cultures and broad-spectrum antibiotics (Flucloxacillin, Metronidazole and Gentamicin), she underwent CT angiogram of her lower limbs which showed oedematous and expanded muscle compartments of the thigh and calf but patent arterial flow to the feet. There was also right common femoral vein thrombosis with some vessel patency. Initial labs revealed neutrophilia (9.2), thrombocytopaenia (16) and deranged coagulation (PT 16, APPT 33, Fib 2.6). CK was 57000. She underwent right leg fasciotomies and was brought to ICU ventilated and on Noradrenaline to maintain MAP >65. She commenced Immunoglobulin IV 1gram/kg per day for 2 days for suspected Streptococcus Group A sepsis. That night she had massive transfusion requirements due to ongoing haemoserous ooze from her fasciotomy sites, losing up to 1 litre of haemoserous fluid per hour. Overnight she received 10 units RCC, 8 x FFP, 6 x Platelets and 2 x Cryoprecipitate, as well as Vitamin K (guided by Hb on ABG, formal lab results and thromboelastography). She was discussed with the Haematology Consultant and it was decided that, if rapid blood loss continued despite full correction of her clotting factors, fibrinogen and platelets then Factor VII could be given. However, over the next 2 hours, losses were much reduced following product replacement, and since she already had clot in her femoral vein, Factor VII Concentrate was not given.

What is the role of Recombinant Factor VIIa in major haemorrhage?

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Heparin Induced Thrombocytopenia

Heparin Induced Thrombocytopenia

A 62 year old lady with a metallic aortic valve was admitted to the cardiac unit for urgent surgical repair of a severely regurgitant mitral valve. He was normally on warfarin for his metal valve. This was stopped and unfractionated heparin commenced on day 4 once his INR level had dropped below the therapeutic range. The patient’s platelet count was 147*10^9/L on admission. By day 4 it had dropped to 85*10^9/L. After heparin was started it dropped further to a nadir of 55*10^9/L on day 8.

Could this be due to heparin induced thrombocytopenia? What investigations are required and how should we treat it?
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Transfusion in Sepsis

Transfusion in Sepsis

A 85 year old man presented with acute bowel obstruction. He had a history of hypertension and diverticulitis disease, but was active for his age. He was not known to have coronary or any other vascular pathology. At laparotomy, a large diverticulitis abscess was identified. When this was manipulated, he developed an SVT with a ventricular rate of 210 bpm which progressed to VT. He received 1 mg adrenaline and 2 minutes CPR in total, with no electrical shocks. At this point perfusion and pressure returned. Surgery was expedited and simplified. He remained intubated and ventilated on ITU post-operatively. ECG demonstrated global t-wave inversion. He required noradrenaline and adrenaline to maintain blood pressure. During the initial 48 hours, his haemoglobin (Hb) fell from 11.9 g/dl to 8.1 g/dl, raising the suggestion of packed red cell (PRC) transfusion.

What is the most appropriate threshold to transfuse packed red cells in critically ill patients?Read More »

Tranexamic Acid in Trauma

Tranexamic Acid in Trauma

A 19 year old man experienced a head on collision as the driver of a car. He suffered significant lower limb open fractures, pelvic fractures, lung injuries and a small subarachnoid bleed. Initial management was performed in ED and included oxygen, IV access and fluid, lower limb and spine immobilisation, and analgesia. He underwent a trauma series CT scan, which identified the various injuries given above. At no point was his level of consciousness a concern, and he maintained his own patent airway throughout. He did not show signs of haemodynamic instability or evidence of life threatening haemorrhage. Tranexamic acid (TXA) was not given.

What is the evidence for using tranexamic acid in trauma?

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