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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Acute Mitral Valve Failure


An elderly woman woke from sleep with acute breathlessness and wheeze. She had been treated for late-onset asthma by her GP. She had no other previous medical history and was exceptionally active. In the emergency department she received standard treatment for acute severe asthma . A systolic murmur was noted and an echocardiogram requested. After 24 hours of relative stability she experienced a sudden deterioration in her breathing and despite increased therapy for her asthma she had a respiratory arrest.

Following resuscitation and emergency tracheal intubation she was transferred to the ICU. On examination she was peripherally cool. Chest auscultation revealed extensive wheeze and crackles. Investigations revealed a raised troponin I (0.92 ug/L) and raised BNP (530 pmol/L). Her CXR revealed pulmonary oedema and her ECG showed sinus rhythm without overt evidence of ischaemia.

Initial problems included poor oxygenation, oliguria and a low cardiac output state (LiDCO revealed cardiac index of 2.1 l/min/m2). She received norepinephrine (up to 0.6 mcg/kg/min) and dobutamine (up to 40 mcg/kg/min). Levosimendan was introduced to augment her cardiac function as her CI had not achieved to 2.5l/min/m2. Norepinephrine was increased to maintain a MAP over 65mmHg. After levosimendan her urine output, acid-base status and CI were not substantially improved. The dobutamine had been stopped and she remained on norepinephrine.

An echocardiogram revealed hyperdynamic LV and RV and mitral regurgitation, which was initially assessed as being moderate in severity. Cardiac surgical opinion was that the risk of mitral valve surgery was unacceptably high.

Over the following few days she had problems with recurrent compromising atrial fibrillation and was treated with varying degrees of success with a variety of measures including DC cardioversion, amiodarone, metoprolol, digoxin and verapamil. Diuresis was obtained with a frusemide infusion and ramipril was introduced. Her CXR appearances improved and ventilation became easier.

On the 3rd day a trans-oesphageal echocardiogram confirmed severe mitral regurgitation (MR) with prolapse of the posterior mitral valve (MV) leaflet due to a ruptured chordae tendinae. There was resultant left atrial enlargement and pulmonary hypertension with an estimated PA systolic pressure of 60-70mmHg. Within a week she was weaned from ventilatory support and recovered sufficiently to mobilise independently prior to discharge home.Read More »

Refractory Status Epilepticus


A middle aged man presented with seizures. For 4 days he had been feeling unwell with coryzal symptoms, frontal headache and dizziness. He had ‘not been himself’ for some months. He had no previous medical history and had never had a seizure before. The ambulance crew noted that he was confused and witnessed a generalised tonic-clonic seizure. On arrival in hospital he was severely agitated and uncooperative and received IV lorazepam.

He was not adequately protecting his airway, saturations were 100% on high flow oxygen, temperature was 37.8, his pulse was 88, BP 129/90mmHg, blood sugar was 7.7. Clinical examination did not reveal any abnormality except for diminished level of consciousness. A presumptive diagnosis of meningitis / encephalitis was made. His trachea was intubated, he received fluids, parenteral vitamins, IV ceftriaxone and acyclovir. A CT head (with contrast) was obtained and a lumbar puncture were normal. His blood tests, CXR, urinary toxicology screen, and ECG were non-contributory. Arterial blood gas analysis revealed changes consistent with being post ictal and then (whilst ventilated) normalised.

His sedation was weaned and once extubated he remained very drowsy, even 18 hours after his last sedation. A Glasgow Coma Score (GCS) was recorded at E1V1M5 (7/15). His pupils were equal and reactive, and he was moving all 4 limbs. Both plantar responses were down-going, and tone and reflexes were symmetrical. He had myoclonic jerking of his left hand but no rhythmical muscle activity was evident. To protect his airway he required reintubation of his trachea and re-institution of ventilation.

In addition to sedation with propofol and alfentanil he received therapeutic phenytoin. An electroencephalogram (EEG) performed on his second day, off sedation, revealed continuous periodic sharp and slow wave complexes at around 1Hz with intermittent high amplitude waves in the left temporal region and bursts of rhythmical activity in the right temporal region. At the time of the EEG he had some abnormal motor activity – continuous movement of his fingers and twitching of an eyelid and rhythmical jerking of both of his arms. An MRI of his brain was normal.

In this clinical context the EEG was interpreted as being consistent with encephalitis and non-convulsive status epilepticus.  Phenobarbitone was started in addition to the phenytoin. Normothermia and normoglycemia was maintained. To improve the management of his non convulsive status we continuously monitored his cerebral electrical activity with a bispectral index (BIS) monitor and bitemporal EEGs. We targeted a burst suppression of 20-50%. Propofol was ineffective at reducing the BIS without causing limiting hypotension but midazolam was effective.

Further investigations did not further our search for the primary diagnosis. A further EEG was performed 24 hours later, off midazolam but whilst on 350mg/hr of propofol. He developed some rhythmical motor activity and his EEG revealed ongoing abnormal electric activity, consistent with continued non-convulsive status, which resolved in response to a bolus of propofol. A possible diagnosis of limbic encephalitis was considered and methylprednisolone (1g IV) was administered.

A repeat MRI showed increased abnormal signal changes in the amygdala and hippocampus, which is supportive of the diagnosis of limbic encephalitis.

Despite optimal medical treatment his EEG showed more severe and continued abnormal electrical activity. Thiopentone was added to his anti-seizure regime. By the 19th day from initial presentation multiorgan failure had developed. He required ventilation with high airway pressures and high inspired oxygen concentrations for lung injury due to ventilator associated pneumonia, vasoactive drugs to support his cardiovascular system through the associated sepsis, haemofiltration for renal failure and had ileus with failure of enteral feeding. There were still signs of seizure activity despite concurrent administration of propofol, midazolam, phenytoin, levetiracetam, phenobarbitone and sodium valproate. Supportive treatment was withdrawn following diagnosis of brain-stem death. His family did not permit a post mortem examination.Read More »

Advance Directives

An elderly man presented to hospital with an acute abdomen. He was fit and well, with a background of well-controlled hypertension and chronic back pain. He had previously had admissions with a recurrent gastric volvulus, each time it had resolved spontaneously.

A CT scan was performed and revealed a gastric volvulus which was decompressed endoscopically. He was transferred to the high dependency ward post-procedure for observation as it was deemed high risk for recurrence and therefore likely that he would need surgery to correct it. Overnight he required increasing amounts of fluid and analgesia and suddenly deteriorated with a tachycardia, rising lactate and peritonitic abdomen. He was taken for an emergency laparotomy and had a gastrectomy. A feeding jejunostomy was inserted during the procedure.

The post-operative course involved a period of septic shock and multi-organ failure. He remained intubated, on a noradrenaline infusion and was receiving CVVH for renal failure. On the third post-operative day, despite a 24 hour sedation hold, he was showing no sign of any neurological recovery and was not eye-opening or obeying commands. It was at this point that his wife presented the team with an advance directive.

The advance directive was presented at a point in the care whereby the patient was already receiving high levels of support for his cardiovascular system (noradrenaline 0.3mcg/kg/min), respiratory system, renal system (CVVH) and gastrointestinal system (jejunostomy feed). It was discussed and a plan was made to, for the current time, continue management, but it was explained that the outlook was bleak.

His renal function worsened over the next few days (urea 27, creatinine 400) and despite a long sedation hold, he was still unable to obey commands. However,care was continued as both the cardiovascular and respiratory support was decreasing, with the noradrenaline having been weaned by day 6. He was extubated by day, but remained mildly confused and agitated. The following day, he became more tachycardic, tachypneoic and hypotensive. He deteriorated significantly to the extent where he became peri-arrest and was re-intubated. A CT confirmed an intra-abdominal/mediastinal catastrophe.

He once again developed severe septic shock with multi-organ dysfunction. His antiobiotics were restarted (meropenum) and an anti-fungal (fluconazole) introduced. NJ feed was commenced. He improved to the point of extubation on day 11, but again deteriorated. At this point, a decision involving his wife was made to palliate him. He died later that day

What are the implications of advance directives on the ICU?Read More »

Metformin Associated Lactic Acidosis

Metformin Associated Lactic Acidosis

A 65-year-old female, presented with epigastric pain and a 3-day history of diarrhoea and vomiting, dry mouth and breathlessness. She had also experienced a transient loss of vision three days earlier. Her past medical history included type 2 Diabetes, hypertension (on ramipril), hypothyroidism. On arrival, her GCS was 15/15. She was tachypnoeic (respiratory rate 31 breaths/minute) but maintained oxygen saturations at 98% on high-flow oxygen. On auscultation, she had bibasal crepitations.  She was tachycardic (irregularly irregular pulse of 130 beats/minute), had cool peripheries and dry mucous membranes. Her BP was 105/39mmHg. She had tenderness in her lower abdomen. Her initial arterial blood gas revealed a marked metabolic acidosis (pH <6.8, pO2 23.1, pCO2 1.9) with unrecordable bicarbonate and lactate levels. She was referred to the surgical and critical care teams with a working diagnosis of ischaemic bowel secondary to an embolic phenomenon (atrial fibrillation and possible amaurosis fugax).

She was resuscitated in ED with 4 litres of crystalloid but rapidly deteriorated, requiring vasopressor support to maintain her blood pressure. Her metabolic disturbance did not not correct with resuscitation and her lactate now registered as >15. Bloods showed Na 140, K+ 6.3, urea 35, Cr 1105. A decision to intubate was made in view of a deteriorating conscious level and need for urgent filtration and invasive monitoring. Noradrenaline (0.3mcg/kg/min) and dobutamine (26mcg/kg/min) were required to achieve a satisfactory blood pressure and she was commenced on CVVHDF. She was considered to unstable for transfer to CT or an emergency laparotomy. Her metabolic disturbance remained severe (pH<6.8 and lactate 13.9).

Within 24 hours her metabolic state had improved (pH 7.19, pO2 7.19, PCO2 2.5, HCO3 10, BE -28.1, Lac 6.7) and she became more cardiovascular stability. A CT effectively excluded an intra-abdominal catastrophe. Renal failure secondary to dehydration complicated by Metformin Associated Lactic Acidosis (MALA) appeared to be the most likely presentation. Her condition continue to stabilise and her vasopressor support and RRT was weaned over the next 7-10 days

What are the risk factors, clinical features and management of metformin associated lactic acidosis?Read More »

Ethylene Glycol Poisoning

Ethylene Glycol Poisoning

A 50 year old man was found by the roadside by paramedics with a GCS of 13. On arrival he had a patent airway, but a GCS of 5 (E1 M3 V1). He had an elevated respiratory rate (30/min) and a profound metabolic acidosis (pH 6.97 pO2 16.8 pCO2 1.68 HCO3 2.8 BXS -30.8 COHb 0). The lactate was too high to be measured by the blood gas analyser and there was an elevated anion gap [(147+5.5) – (2.8+ 109) = 40.7] He was cardiovascularly stable with warm peripheries. His ECG revealed a prolonged QTc. He was intubated and 8.4% sodium bicarbonate was administered. His initial laboratory bloods showed CRP 11, white cell count 29.5 CK 2539 creatinine 213. Ethanol levels were <10 and Paracetamol and salicylate levels were within normal limits. He was given a dose of intravenous cefotaxime and his urine was sent for organic acids screening which revealed an enormous peak of glycolic acid and small increase in oxalic acid, consistent with an overdose of ethylene glycol.

After arrival in intensive care, the sodium bicarbonate had improved the pH to 7.2, with a residual lactaemia (15 as measured in the laboratory, without any interference from glycolic acid). CVVHDF was commenced. In order to inhibit futher metabolism of the ethylene glycol, 10% ethanol was commenced until fomepizole was available (an initial bolus of 800ml, followed by an infusion at 180ml/hr). Ethanol levels were monitored. Fomepizole was administered later that day abd the ethanol stopped (15mg/kg loading and 1mg/kg/hr). The renal function deteriorated despite CVVHDF (peaked at urea 28, creatinine 724 on day 4), which was continued for 5 days. Treatment for aspiration pneumonia was started in day 1 and cardiovascular support was continued (noradrenaline). Intermittent boluses of glycopyrolate were required to treat the bradycardia associated with fomepizole. A gradual improvement occurred and he had made a full neurological recovery within 2 weeks, with much improved renal function. He later admitted to drinking 250ml of antifreeze.

What are the clinical features and management of ethylene glycol poisoning?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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Rapid Response Systems

Rapid Response Systems

An elderly man was admitted with an acute abdomen and free air visible under the diaphragm on CXR. He was fluid resuscitated before undergoing emergency laparotomy, where a perforated duodenal ulcer was oversewn. He was admitted to ICU postoperatively, extubated the next morning and deemed fit for discharge to the surgical ward later that day. Due to a lack of surgical beds, he was eventually discharged from ICU at 22:30. Eight hours post discharge, he was urgently re-referred to ICU after being found moribund on the ward. Before he could be seen and assessed he suffered an unrecoverable asystolic arrest. Review of his observation charts showed that there had been a clear deterioration in recorded observations, including hypotension for the two preceeding hours. However, the Early Warning Score had been calculated incorrectly, and no escalation had occurred.

What evidence is there that rapid response systems are effective in preventing patient deterioration and improving outcomes?

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