Case # 14: Whirlpool swirling, twisting and turning

A 13-year-old male presents to the emergency department with right testicular pain for one-hour duration. The pain began while having a bowel movement. He had no nausea or vomiting. His exam is notable for a high riding right testicle and tenderness to palpation over the right testicle.

Vitals: T: 97.8, HR: 106, BP: 135/79, RR: 16, Sat: 96% on RA

A bedside ultrasound of the testicles is performed. What do you see?

Answer and Learning Points


These ultrasound images demonstrates limited flow into the right testicle suggestive of testicular torsion. Manual detorsion was performed at the bedside using the “open-the-book” maneuver with subsequent ultrasound demonstrating return of flow to the right testicle. Urology was consulted, and the patient was scheduled for an outpatient orchiopexy.

Learning Points

The acute scrotum is a presentation that requires timely evaluation and management by the emergency physician. Of all causes of acute scrotum, testicular torsion is the diagnosis that requires the most emergent action because of the limited time window of testicular salvageability.1 Unfortunately, in many clinical settings including urgent cares, clinics, and rural community emergency rooms, it can be challenging to confirm our clinical suspicion in a timely fashion because of the difficulty in obtaining an official scrotal ultrasound. For this reason, POCUS is an important tool for emergency physicians in the diagnosis of patients with acute scrotum.

Ultrasound findings of testicular torsion:

Loss or reduction of color Doppler flow/Spectral Doppler tracings to affected testicle (Must compare to other testicle)

Affected testicle becomes more heterogeneous than other testicle

Adhikari, S. R. (2008). Small parts - Testicular ultrasound. Retrieved from

Thickened, hypoechoic mediastinum

Prando D. Torsion of the spermatic cord: the main gray-scale and doppler sonographic signs. Abdom Imaging. 2009 Sep-Oct;34(5):648-61. doi: 10.1007/s00261-008-9449-8. Review. PubMed PMID: 18709404. 

Whirlpool sign6


Marissa Wolfe, MS4; Amir Aminlari, MD, Emergency Ultrasound Fellowship Director at UCSD


  1. Mellick LB, Sinex JE, Gibson RW, Mears K. A Systematic Review of Testicle Survival Time After a Torsion Event. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2017 Sep 25. doi: 10.1097/PEC.0000000000001287. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 28953100.
  2. Sharp VJ, Kieran K, Arlen AM. Testicular torsion: diagnosis, evaluation, and management. Am Fam Physician. 2013 Dec 15;88(12):835-40. Review. PubMed PMID: 24364548.
  3. Wang S, Scoutt L. Testicular torsion and manual detorsion. Ultrasound Q. 2013 Sep;29(3):261-2. doi: 10.1097/RUQ.0b013e3182a2d129. PubMed PMID: 23945494.
  4. Adhikari, S. R. (2008). Small parts - Testicular ultrasound. Retrieved from
  5. Prando D. Torsion of the spermatic cord: the main gray-scale and doppler sonographic signs. Abdom Imaging. 2009 Sep-Oct;34(5):648-61. doi: 10.1007/s00261-008-9449-8. Review. PubMed PMID: 18709404.
  6. Kalfa N, Veyrac C, Lopez M, Lopez C, Maurel A, Kaselas C, Sibai S, Arena F, Vaos G, Bréaud J, Merrot T, Kalfa D, Khochman I, Mironescu A, Minaev S, Avérous M, Galifer RB. Multicenter assessment of ultrasound of the spermatic cord in children with acute scrotum. J Urol. 2007 Jan;177(1):297-301; discussion 301. PubMed PMID: 17162068.
  7. Vijayaraghavan SB. Sonographic differential diagnosis of acute scrotum: real-time whirlpool sign, a key sign of torsion. J Ultrasound Med. 2006 May;25(5):563-74. PubMed PMID: 16632779.

Point-of-Care Ultrasonography for Evaluation of Acute Dyspnea in the ED


Dyspnea is a common presenting symptom in the emergency department, and early diagnosis of underlying disease pathology is crucial in rapid intervention and treatment. Laboratory and radiological tests aid in the diagnosis, but often these results take time.1-3 Additionally, chest radiographs and chest CTs, the most common radiological tests in the evaluation of dyspnea, have several disadvantages including radiation risks and high costs. Unlike these modalities, point-of-care ultrasound (PoCUS) is cheap with no radiation risk, highly accurate, and has better sensitivity in detecting pneumothorax, pneumonia, and pleural effusions than CXR.4-7 In addition to being accurate and reliable, PoCUS can be performed rapidly to aid in early diagnosis and treatment of patients.

Point-of-Care Ultrasonography for Evaluation of Acute Dyspnea in the ED

Clinical Question

What is the feasibility and diagnostic accuracy of PoCUS for the management of acute dyspnea in the ED?

Methods & Study Design

  • Design:

Prospective, blinded, observational study

  • Population:

This study was conducted at Careggi University Hospital, a university-affiliated teaching hospital.

  • Inclusion Criteria:

Patients over the age of 18 with acute dyspnea of any degree. 

  • Exclusion Criteria:

Patients with dyspnea of traumatic origin, and those that were discharged from the emergency department after evaluation. 

  • Intervention:

All patients were primarily assessed by 2 separate emergency physicians with vital signs, history, physical exam, and EKG.

One physician performed a Lung, Cardiac, and IVC PoCUS.

One physician performed a standard workup using any combination of Chest X-Ray, Chest CT, Echocardiogram, labs, or Arterial Blood Gas.

Both physicians were asked to make up to 2 diagnoses based on their results.

Possible diagnoses: Heart Failure, Acute Coronary Syndrome, Pneumonia, Pleural Effusion, Pericardial Effusion, COPD/asthma, Pulmonary Embolism, Pneumothorax, ARDS/ALI, Other.

  • Outcomes


Accuracy of diagnosis:

Follow-up chart review determined the reference diagnosis. Results were compared to the diagnosis obtained from the ultrasound group and the standard workup group.


Time to final diagnosis for both groups was recorded.

Time for Ultrasound completion was recorded.


3,487 total patients → 2,683 included in study

Average time to complete US: 7±2 min

Average time to Diagnosis:

Ultrasound: 24 ± 10 minutes

ED: 186 ± 72 minutes

Variable Sensitivity - Ultrasound Sensitivity - Standard
Heart Failure 88 (85.1-90.6) 77.3 (73.7 – 80.6)
COPD/asthma 86.6 (84.2-89.2) 92.2 (90.1-94)
Pulmonary Embolism 40 (30.1-50.6) 90.5 (82.8-95.6)
  • Point-of-care ultrasound had an increased sensitivity in detecting heart failure compared to standard workup.
  • Point-of-care ultrasound had a decreased sensitivity in diagnosing COPD/asthma and pulmonary embolism compared to standard workup.

There were no differences in the sensitivity or specificity of ultrasound vs. standard workup in all other diagnoses.

Strength & Limitations


Adequate sample size obtained for most diagnoses.

Gold standard diagnosis was reviewed by two separate emergency medicine physicians.


Ultrasound sonographers focused only on those patients with dyspnea, while the treating physicians were responsible for other patients in the ED.

This likely increased the time to diagnosis for emergency physicians in the standard workup group.

Patients discharged from the hospital were not included in study.

Average age of patient population was 71, but patients 18 and over were accepted.

ARDS patient studies were underpowered.

Authors Conclusion

“Integrated ultrasound methods could replace the current first diagnostic approach to patients presenting with dyspnea, allowing a drastic reduction in costs and diagnostic times.”

Our Conclusion

Point-of-Care Ultrasound in patients with dyspnea provides us with quick information to begin treatment before other laboratory and radiological tests become available. While this study showed that ultrasound was superior to the standard workup in detecting heart failure, it was slightly inferior to the standard workup in detecting COPD/asthma, and significantly inferior to standard workup in detecting pulmonary embolism. The authors speculated that with the inclusion of a DVT ultrasound study would improve the sensitivity for detecting PEs greatly.  

There have been other studies demonstrating increased sensitivity using ultrasound in patients to diagnose pneumonia and pleural effusions compared to chest x-ray. This study contributed to our knowledge of the accuracy of ultrasound in undifferentiated dyspnea by demonstrating its accuracy in these other important diagnoses. The study shows that PoCUS can guide and the emergency physician’s workup, help risk-stratify, can help us to begin treatment quickly, and improveflow and efficiency in the ED. 

The Bottom Line

Although PoCUS won’t replace a standard workup in many cases, PoCUS can rapidly and accurately aid in determining the underlying diagnosis in patients presenting to the ED with undifferentiated dyspnea and may lead to quicker treatment times and improved flow in the emergency department. 


This post was written by Marissa Wolfe, MS4 at Stony Brook University. Review and further commentary was provided by Amir Aminlari, MD, Ultrasound Faculty at UCSD.


  1. Mulrow CD, Lucey CR, Farnett LE. Discriminating causes of dyspnea through clinical examination. J Gen Intern Med. 1993;8(7):383-392. 
  2. Schmitt BP, Kushner MS, Wiener SL. The diagnostic usefulness of the history of the patient with dyspnea. J Gen Intern Med. 1986;1(6):386-393. 
  3. Nielsen LS, Svanegaard J, Wiggers P, Egeblad H. The yield of a diagnostic hospital dyspnoea clinic for the primary health care section. J Intern Med. 2001;250(5):422-428. 
  4. Lichtenstein D, Mezière G. Relevance of lung ultrasound in the diagnosis of acute respiratory failure: the BLUE protocol. Chest. 2008;134(1):117-125. 
  5. Reissig A, Copetti R, Mathis G, et al. Lung ultrasound in the diagnosis and follow-up of community-acquired pneumonia: a prospective, multicenter, diagnostic accuracy study. Chest. 2012;142(4): 965-972. 
  6. Zanobetti M, Poggioni C, Pini R. Can chest ultrasonography replace standard chest radiography for evaluation of acute dyspnea in the ED? Chest. 2011;139(5): 1140-1147. 
  7. Nazerian P, Volpicelli G, Vanni S, et al. Accuracy of lung ultrasound for the diagnosis of consolidations when compared to chest computed tomography. Am J Emerg Med. 2015;33(5):620-625. 

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