Free Fluid in Morison’s Pouch on Bedside Ultrasound Predicts Need for Operative Intervention in Suspected Ectopic Pregnancy

Background

Vaginal bleeding and abdominal pain are common presenting symptoms to the emergency department (ED) in women in early pregnancy. While the majority of pregnant patients presenting with these symptoms are stable, a small subset of this group represents a ruptured ectopic pregnancy with a potential to rapidly decompensate, resulting in high rates of morbidity and mortality. Therefore it is critical for this diagnosis to be identified both accurately and rapidly.

The Focused Assessment of Sonography in Trauma (FAST) exam has been well studied in the acute trauma setting to identify internal bleeding however there is not much data on its use in the non trauma setting. In theory, it makes intuitive sense that it should perform similarly and be able to accurately identify significant non traumatic pelvic and intraperitoneal bleeding.

In a previous study, emergency physician (EP) performed bedside ultrasound (US) in suspected ectopic pregnancy was found to  decrease the time to both diagnosis and treatment [1]. The following study seeks to prospectively investigate the significance of positive fluid in Morison's pouch during transabdominal US examination performed by EPs in patients with suspected ectopic pregnancy. 

Free Fluid in Morison’s Pouch on Bedside Ultrasound Predicts Need for Operative Intervention in Suspected Ectopic Pregnancy‌

Clinical Question

Is EP performed US with identification of free fluid in Morison's pouch predictive of the need for operative intervention in suspected ectopic pregnancy?

Methods & Study Design

  • Design
    • Prospective observational study
  • Population
    • Conducted at Yale-New Haven Hospital, an urban Level 1 trauma center and teaching hospital
    • Pregnant women presenting to the ED in whom there was a suspicion of an ectopic pregnancy
  • Inclusion criteria
    • Female patients with positive pregnancy test who presented in first trimester with abdominal pain and/or vaginal bleeding and requiring further imaging or consultation
  • Exclusion criteria
    • No specific criteria
  • Intervention
    • EP performed transabdominal and transpelvic US evaluation for:
      • Free fluid in Morison's pouch (positive, negative or indeterminate)
      • Presence of intrauterine pregnancy (IUP), or no definitive IUP
      • Free fluid in the cul-de-sac (present, absent)
  • Outcomes
    • Follow up and chart review was performed by independent study investigators, blinded to ED US results, ultimately classifying the final outcome as ectopic or non ectopic pregnancy and further defining the management as operative or medical.

Results

Patient Flow Diagram 

Ultrasound Findings and Clinical Characteristics  of Patients

 

 

Strengths & Limitations

  • Strengths
    • Performed in ED based population
    • All ultrasound examinations performed by ED physicians making this applicable to point-of-care ultrasound
  • Limitations
    • Potential selection bias given that rate of ectopic pregnancy in study population was higher than most published rates
    • Not truly observational study as treating physicians were not blinded to ED US results
    • Some patients lost to follow up

Authors Conclusion

"Free intraperitoneal fluid found in Morison’s pouch in patients with suspected ectopic pregnancy may be rapidly identified at the bedside by an EP-performed US and predicts the need for operative intervention. Transabdominal pelvic US may show an IUP in more than one third of patients with suspected ectopic pregnancy."

Our Conclusion

While this paper does not have the methodological prowess of a multicenter randomized control trial, it accurately answers an important question with respect to positive fluid in Morison's pouch on ED US and the need for operative intervention in ectopic pregnancy. This study also highlights the niche of point-of-care ultrasound and why it is so critical to our practice as emergency medicine providers. Unlike radiological studies, which require increased time and may be difficult to obtain in critical patients, point-of-care ultrasound allows rapid identification of key findings that allow for early diagnosis and decision making.

Based on this study, the addition of positive fluid seen in Morison's pouch during ED US for suspected ectopic pregnancy now adds on a strong predictor for the need for operative intervention. This is especially important in unstable and hypotensive patients.

However, there are several caveats to understand when interpreting this data. First, all the patients in this study were enrolled after having a positive pregnancy test, therefore, prior to assuming that a young female with free fluid in her abdomen is from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, a pregnancy must first be confirmed.  Second, not all free fluid in Morison's pouch in a pregnant woman is due to an ectopic pregnancy. In this data set, there was one patient that had a definitive IUP and free fluid in Morison's pouch which was found to be from a ruptured corpus luteal cyst. There are also case reports of splenic artery aneurysm rupture in pregnancy that could mimic a ruptured ectopic [2]. If an IUP is identified on transabdominal ultrasound, unless the patient is receiving advanced reproductive techniques, alternative explanations for the free fluid should at least be considered before a heterotopic pregnancy is presumed. Third, while this study demonstrates excellent specificity of positive fluid in Morison's pouch and the need for operative intervention in suspected ectopic pregnancy, it has very poor sensitivity. Therefore, ED US should be used as a rule in technique and does not replace formal ultrasound and obstetrical consultation if the diagnosis is not clear.

The Bottom Line

Free fluid found in Morison’s pouch in patients with suspected ectopic pregnancy can be rapidly identified at the bedside by emergency providers and predicts the need for operative intervention.

 

Authors

This post was written by Michael Macias, MD, Ultrasound Fellow at UCSD.

References

    1. Rodgerson JD, Heegaard WG, Plummer D, Hicks J, Clinton J, Sterner S. Emergency department right upper quadrant ultrasound is associated with a reduced time to diagnosis and treatment of ruptured ectopic pregnancies. Acad Emerg Med. 2001; 8:331–6.
    2. Lynch MJ, Woodford NW. Rupture of a splenic artery aneurysm during pregnancy with maternal and foetal death: a case report. Med Sci Law. 2008;48:(4)342-5.
    3. Moore C et al. Free fluid in Morison's pouch on bedside ultrasound predicts need for operative intervention in suspected ectopic pregnancy. Acad Emerg Med. 2007; 8: 755-8

Case # 6: Not Your Average Syncope

A 25 year old female presents to the emergency department with acute abdominal pain and a syncopal episode. She notes a positive home urine pregnancy test 1 week ago. She appears mildly uncomfortable with a tender abdomen. A bedside ultrasound is performed, a clip is shown below. What are the findings of the ultrasound clip and what is your diagnosis?

Vitals: T 98.7 HR 120 BP 95/72  RR 20 O2 98% on RA

Image courtesy of Elizabeth Owen, MD

Image courtesy of Elizabeth Owen, MD

Answer and Learning Point

Answer

The ultrasound clip demonstrates a large amount of free fluid between the spleen and the diaphragm. There is also a sliver of echogenic material above the capsule of the spleen suggestive of clotted blood. Morison’s pouch (not shown) was also noted to be significantly positive for free fluid. Given the patient’s unstable vitals and the clinical history, this was concerning for a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. OB was consulted immediately and the patient was taken to the OR. The diagnosis of ruptured ectopic pregnancy was confirmed during laparotomy. The patient did well.

While the FAST exam has traditionally been used in trauma, there has been increasing use to diagnose intra-abdominal bleeding as a source of hypotension in medical patients. Specifically with regards to ectopic pregnancy, data has suggested that positive free fluid in Morison’s pouch is highly predictive of operative intervention with a positive likelihood ratio of 112 (Sens 50%, Spec 99.5) [1]. A retrospective study in 2001, looking at emergency medicine physician performed ultrasound, demonstrated that identifying patients with a suspected ectopic pregnancy and free fluid in Morison’s pouch decreased the time to diagnosis and treatment [2].

Learning Points

    • All women of childbearing age presenting with abdominal pain and syncope should be presumed to have a ruptured ectopic pregnancy until proven otherwise
    • Transabdominal ultrasound to evaluate for free fluid should be utilized by the emergency physician in cases of suspected ruptured ectopic pregnancy to assist with risk stratification and rapid diagnosis
    • As in trauma patients, evaluation for free fluid should be performed with the patient supine (or preferably Trendelenburg position as this increases the sensitivity of identifying free fluid in Morison’s pouch [3])
    • A curvilinear (preferred) or phased-array probe should be used to evaluate the abdomen for free fluid and it is critical to completely visualize the most inferior portion of Morison's Pouch, including the caudal tip of the liver & inferior renal pole, as this is where free fluid will collect first
    • A positive pregnancy test and positive free fluid in Morison’s pouch is essentially diagnostic of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy (though ruptured splenic artery aneurysm should also remain on your differential)

Author

This post was written by Michael Macias, MD, Ultrasound Fellow at UCSD.

References

    1. Moore C, Todd WM, O’Brien E. Free Fluid in Morison’s Pouch on Bedside Ultrasound Predicts Need for Operative Intervention in Suspected Ectopic Pregnancy. Acad Emerg Med. 2007; 14(8):755-8.
    2. Rodgerson JD, Heegaard WG, Plummer D, Hicks J, Clinton J, Sterner S. Emergency department right upper quadrant ultrasound is associated with a reduced time to diagnosis and treatment of ruptured ectopic pregnancies. Acad Emerg Med. 2001; 8:331–6.
    3. Abrams BJ, Sukumvanich P, Seibel R, Moscati R, Jehle D. Ultrasound for the detection of intraperitoneal fluid: the role of Trendelenburg positioning. Am J Emerg Med. 1999;17:(2)117-20.