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 »

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 »

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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Predicting Weaning from Mechanical Ventilation

A 60 year old man was electively admitted to the intensive care unit following a combined kidney pancreas transplant. Diabetes mellitus was the cause for his end stage renal failure. He was admitted for overnight HDU care, and was discharged the following day. He had delayed graft function thought to be related to a prolonged cold ischaemic time of the kidney. He would need dialysis until the function of the transplanted kidney improved. Four days later whilst on the ward he became hypotensive, became unconscious and suffered a cardiac arrest. He was successfully resuscitated and was readmitted to ICU.

In the ICU he required a blood transfusion as his haemoglobin level had dropped. He was taken to theatre for a re-laparotomy and a graft pancreatectomy was performed and all bleeding was stopped.

He continued to suffer from delayed kidney graft function and needed intermittent dialysis. After two days he was on minimal respiratory support and on sedation hold was deemed ready for extubation. He was extubated successfully and remained so for the next 12 hours. He then had an episode of bradycardia and had a markedly reduced cardiac output. He was re-intubated and stabilised. A temporary pacing wire was inserted to control potential episodes of bradycardia.

His condition remained stable over the next day and was again extubated. His oxygenation needs increased over the next 12 hours and was placed on non- invasive ventilation. This stabilised him over the next 12 hours but he suffered from retained secretions and was re-intubated. He then suffered with an ileus and had abdominal distension which complicated his respiratory function. He had a tracheostomy placed and remained on mechanical ventilation for 2 weeks. He was difficult to wean as he suffered set backs related to acute sputum retention and a ventilator associated pneumonia.

This patient had been extubated twice with some degree of morbidity associated with it as he had to be reintubated. It would also be reasonable to assume that this increased his length of stay on the ICU slowed down his ICU discharge. Deciding when to extubate a patient seems to be still a difficult decision to make in some cases and the experience of senior clinicians remains an important role.

For those who have not accumulated this level of clinical experience are there tools available to help them in deciding when and who could be weaned and extubated from mechanical ventilation?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 »

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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Secondary Complications of Subarachnoid Haemorrhage

Secondary Complications of Subarachnoid Haemorrhage

A thirty eight year old female smoker was admitted via A+E following sudden onset occipital headache with visual disturbance and collapse with loss of consciousness lasting approximately five minutes. She had complained of unusual headaches a week prior to this event, but these were short lived and not associated with any neurology. On arrival in resus she had recovered to a Glasgow coma score (GCS) of 14/15. She demonstrated neck stiffness and photophobia, as well as general irritability. Plain computerised tomography
scan (CT) performed showed a subarachnoid haemorrage in the region of the middle cerebral artery, with the presence of blood in the sylvian fissure.

She was transferred to the ITU for monitoring and blood pressure control with invasive arterial and central venous pressure monitoring. She was treated with nimodipine to prevent vasospasm. Contrast CT performed showed an aneurysm at the bifurcation of the middle cerebral artery, and this was felt to be the origin of the bleed. She underwent uneventful endovascular coiling of this aneurysm the following day under general anesthesia, and was discharged to the neurosurgical team for ongoing care afterwards.

What are the secondary complications of subarachnoid haemorrhage and how are they managed?

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Steroids in Cervical Spine Injury

Steroids in Cervical Spine Injury

A previously fit and well 46 year-old was admitted via the emergency department having sustained a neck injury whilst horse riding. She was unable to move her arms and legs immediately after the fall. On arrival to the Emergency Department, she was alert and orientated. Examination of the cardiovascular and respiratory system was unremarkable although there was evidence of diaphragmatic breathing.

Examination of her neurological system revealed:

•A sensory level at C6
•Absent upper limb reflexes except for brisk bicep reflex bilaterally
•⅖ power in shoulder abductors bilaterally
•Flaccid paralysis of her lower limbs
•No anal tone

She was initially managed in a hard neck collar with full spinal immobilisation. CT brain was reported to be normal. CT neck showed an obviously displaced fracture of C5 and C6 vertebral bodies. She was transferred to the intensive care unit for cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological monitoring while a definitive treatment plan was being considered. After discussions with the orthopaedic surgeons, it was decided not to commence high-dose steroids. This decision was reinforced after discussion with the local neurosurgical and spinal units. It was also decided not to surgically stabilise the c-spine due to the higher risk of respiratory complications. She was transferred to the spinal rehabilitation unit after 2 days.

What is the role of steroids in cervical spine injury?Read More »

Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome

Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome

 A 66 year old man was brought by ambulance to ED after becoming acutely dyspnoeic at home, and his wife had struggled to wake him after an afternoon sleep. He had a moderate smoking history of 20 pack years and quit 20 years ago, and drank approximately 20 units of alcohol as beer per week. There were no preceding prodromal respiratory or infective symptoms reported. On examination, he was obese with a weight of 120 kg. He was snoring, which eased with a chin-lift or jaw thrust, but he would not tolerate an airway adjunct. His respiratory rate was 8 and shallow, producing SpO2 84% on high flow oxygen. He was flushed and veno-dilated peripherally, with a tachycardia of 110 bpm sinus rhythm. Most notably, he was difficult to rouse, with a GCS of 9 (E2 M5 V2). Arterial blood sampling revealed a profound hypercapnoeic respiratory acidosis with no degree of compensation. Chest X-ray showed poorly expanded lungs with bilateral basal atelectasis and prominent pulmonary vasculature. Empiric naloxone was ineffective and he was commenced on non-invasive ventilation (NIV). The working diagnosis was an acute non-infective exacerbation of previously undiagnosed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Treatment involved bronchodilators, steroids and bilevel pressure support non- invasive ventilation.
One hour after NIV had been established, the patient’s respiratory acidosis was worse and his clinical picture was unchanged. He was intubated then transferred to Intensive Care. CTPA ruled out significant pulmonary emboli but was suggestive of pulmonary hypertension. Ventilation was not difficult, with near normal inspiratory pressures, and his minimal wheeze resolved quickly. As his respiratory acidosis normalised, his GCS rapidly improved to the point of safe extubation after just 48 hours. Given his obesity he was extubated to non-invasive pressure support ventilation immediately. After a further 24 hours, his gas exchange began to deteriorate again. Increasing inspiratory pressure improved his tidal volumes but his intrinsic rate of breathing slowed such that his minute ventilation remained static. He eventually found a stable equilibrium using nocturnal bilevel pressure support with a high mandatory backup rate (pressure control), which maintained a normal minute ventilation. Although he developed hypercapnoea each night, this was mild and eventually compensated. With the NIV, he did not obstruct, have hypopnoeic events or desaturated overnight, which markedly improved his daytime somnolence and effort of breathing.

What are the clinical features and approaches to management of obesity hypoventilation syndrome?

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