Case # 3: Under Your Skin

A 52 year old male with presents with 4 days of painful swelling and redness to his middle right thigh. Physical exam shows a 3 cm area of erythema that is tender to touch. He denies fever and trauma to the area. A bedside ultrasound is performed as seen below. What is the next step in management?

Vitals: HR 82 BP 110/72 RR 14 O2 98

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Answer and Learning Point

Answer

Incision and drainage. The image above demonstrates a well circumscribed fluid collection within the soft tissue,  without evidence of surrounding cellulitis. The above abscess was incised with immediate release of a large volume of purulent material. The patient did well.

Learning Point

    • Ultrasound is an excellent adjunct to the physical exam in the evaluation of soft tissue infections. It improves accuracy in the diagnosis of superficial abscesses and has been shown to change management in up to 50% of emergency department cases of clinical cellulitis [1,2].
    • The ultrasound image above is atypical for an abscess given the iso-echoic texture appreciated in the fluid and is easily missed if the operator is not aware of this unusual finding. Most abscesses will appear as a hypoechoic fluid collection, however occasionally they may have increased internal echoes which can lead to false negative ultrasound results.
    • This can be avoided by applying gentle pressure to the area of the suspected cellulitis/abscess to evaluate for the "swirl sign" which is indicative of fluid movement within the abscess cavity [Figures 1&2].
    • This can be distinguished from the common pattern appreciated in cellulitis known as "cobblestoning" which indicates increased subcutaneous fluid.
Figure 1: Soft tissue ultrasound demonstrating swirling of iso-echoic fluid collection consistent with abscess. Image courtesy of UOTW.
Figure 2: Additional soft tissue ultrasound demonstrating the "swirl sign." Image courtesy of UOTW.

References

 Tayal VS, e. (2017). The effect of soft-tissue ultrasound on the management of cellulitis in the emergency department.

Squire BT, e. (2017). ABSCESS: applied bedside sonography for convenient evaluation of superficial soft tissue infections.

UOTW: Case 66

Case # 2: A Needle In the Haystack

A 40 year old male presented with 3 days of progressive dyspnea on exertion. He notes he was in a normal state of health prior to this and played basketball daily without issue but now he can no longer walk across the room without becoming winded. He has no chest pain, a normal chest x-ray and an ECG demonstrating sinus tachycardia

Vitals: HR 109 BP 110/72 RR 22 O2 96

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Answer and Learning Point

Answer

There is evidence of severe aortic regurgitation and aortic root dilation (~6 cm) on this parasternal long axis view. In a patient without any previous cardiac history with new aortic regurgitation this is concerning for acute aortic dissection. Cardiac surgery was consulted immediately and the patient was taken straight to CT scan for confirmation of type A aortic dissection. The patient was in the OR within 1 hour and had an excellent outcome.

Learning Point

Aortic dissection is quite uncommon (~5-30 per 1 million people per year) and is often seen in patients with chronic uncontrolled hypertension or other diseases such as bicuspid aortic valve, Marfan Syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Unfortunately all the "classic" indicators of dissection are actually not that common [1].  Traditionally we are taught that patients with acute aortic dissection will arrive hypertensive, while in actuality up to 1 in 4 patients with Stanford Type A dissection will have a presenting systolic blood pressure below 100 mmHg. Additionally, it is taught that a dissection presents as a “ripping or tearing” pain going to the back.  Looking at the data, while over 90% of patients felt that it was the worst pain they had ever experienced, only 50% of subjects described their pain as ripping or tearing (62% described pain as sharp), only 35% had any posterior chest pain, and only 85.4% of patients described the onset of their pain as ‘acute.’ [1]

The varied presentation of this disease makes aortic dissection difficult to diagnose, and the clinician should have a high index of suspicion for this life-threatening disease process.  This is where ultrasound comes in. Anyone who has a concerning chest pain story, pain above and below the diaphragm, chest pain + a neurological symptom, or signs and symptoms of acute heart failure without any previous cardiac history, should have a bedside ultrasound performed.  While ultrasound cannot rule out aortic dissection, it can rapidly identify complications of dissection and expedite care in these patients whom time is of the essence.

The Approach

Perform standard abdominal aorta ultrasound evaluating for aneurysm or intimal flap. Be sure to evaluate from proximal aorta, in the epigastric region, distally to the iliac vessels. A normal aorta caliber is < 3 cm.

Obtain a parasternal long axis view:

Measure aortic root, this should be less than 4 cm. There are varying opinions on where the best place to take this measurement is, I suggest measuring the largest area you see as it is better to be on the conservative side.
Apply color doppler to evaluate for aortic regurgitation.
Assess global cardiac function. This is useful to see if a patient is compensated or decompensated as well as assist with fluid/pressor management if needed.
Evaluate for pericardial effusion. If there is evidence of effusion and concern for Type A aortic dissection, this suggests that there is communication with pericardial sac.
Evaluate descending thoracic aorta for intimal flap

References

  1. Hagan PG, Nienaber CA, Isselbacher EM, et al. The International Registry of Acute Aortic Dissection (IRAD): New Insights Into an Old Disease. JAMA. 2000;283(7):897-903. doi:10.1001/jama.283.7.897.
  2. Taylor RA, e. (2017). Point-of-care focused cardiac ultrasound for the assessment of thoracic aortic dimensions, dilation, and aneurysmal disease. - PubMed - NCBI Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 22 July 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=22288871
  3. C, K. (2017). Emergency department diagnosis of aortic dissection by bedside transabdominal ultrasound. - PubMed - NCBI Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 22 July 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19549013
  4. Lang R, Bierig M, Devereux R, et al. Recommendations for Chamber Quantification: A Report from the American Society of Echocardiography’s Guidelines and Standards Committee and the Chamber Quantification Writing Group, Developed in Conjunction with the European Association of Echocardiography, a Branch of the European Society of Cardiology. J Am Soc Echocardiogr 2005; 18: 1440-63.
  5. Rubano E, e. (2017). Systematic review: emergency department bedside ultrasonography for diagnosing suspected abdominal aortic aneurysm. - PubMed - NCBI Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 22 July 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=23406071

Case # 1: The Acutely Winded Traveler

A 65 year old female presents with shortness of breath after a return flight from the Gold Coast of Australia to the United States.

Vitals: HR 107 BP 110/80 RR 22 O2 95

RV+Strain_Mead

Answer and Learning Point

Answer

There is right ventricular dysfunction demonstrated as septal bowing appreciated on this parasternal short axis view. This is concerning for a pulmonary embolism in the setting of the provided clinical context.

Learning Point

Echocardiography can be a useful adjunct to laboratory markers (i.e. BNP and troponin) and CTA for evaluation of right heart strain in normotensive patients presenting with concern for pulmonary embolism.  While there is building evidence that many patients presenting with pulmonary embolism are safe for discharge [1] , those patients that have evidence of right ventricular dysfunction are at higher risk for morbidity and mortality and may also be candidates for more advanced therapies, other than simple anticoagulation, such as catheter directed thrombolysis.  The most up-to-date evidence supports that emergency physicians can accurately perform echocardiography at the bedside to risk stratify patients presenting with concern for pulmonary embolism. In a recent study by Weekes et al, emergency physicians (EP) performed goal directed echocardiography to assess for right ventricular dysfunction. If any of the following criteria below were present, a patient was considered positive by goal directed echocardiography for right ventricular dysfunction:

This study found the EP goal-directed echocardiography sensitivity and specificity for right ventricular dysfunction to be 100% (CI 87% to 100%) and 99% (95% CI 94% to 100%), respectively [2]. Our patient ended up having a saddle embolus and underwent catheter directed thrombolysis and did well.

References

  1. Aujesky D, e. (2017). Outpatient versus inpatient treatment for patients with acute pulmonary embolism: an international, open-label, randomised, non-inferiority trial. - PubMed - NCBI . Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 8 July 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21703676

  2. Weekes AJ, e. (2017). Diagnostic Accuracy of Right Ventricular Dysfunction Markers in Normotensive Emergency Department Patients With Acute Pulmonary Embolism. - PubMed - NCBI . Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 8 July 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=26973178