Case 23: Diastolic Dysfunction

diastolic dysfunction echo


A 79 year old female presented to the emergency room with worsening dyspnea on exertion.  She reported orthopnea, leg swelling, and only being able to walk a few steps without getting short of breath. She denied chest pain, fever, or productive cough, and she had been compliant with her medications. Of note, the patient was seen 3 weeks ago for chest pain, at which point she had a dobutamine stress echo that demonstrated non-reversible ischemic changes. During examination, the providers noted JVD, crackles at bilateral bases, and bilateral lower extremity pitting edema. 


Vitals: T 97.3   BP 152/81   HR 83       RR 18      SPO2 97% on RA


Your initial impression is a slamdunk heart failure exacerbation. However, a bedside ECHO is performed normal ejection fraction. This doesn’t appear to be the classic HFrEF exacerbation you’ve seen countless times before. What do we see in the echo below? What does it tell us about this patient's diastolic function?


diastolic dysfunction echo
e e' echo

Answer and Learning Points


The two images above are an apical four chamber view with the doppler gait measuring mitral inflow velocity and tissue doppler, respectively. They show Grade 1 diastolic dysfunction.

Assessing for diastolic dysfunction is best achieved with an apical four chamber view and involves two measurements: mitral inflow and tissue doppler. Mitral inflow velocity is measured by placing pulsed-wave doppler at the mitral valve leaflet tips. During diastole, there are two surges of blood flow through the mitral valve. The first is Early filling immediately after the valve opens (E wave), representing ventricular relaxation. The second wave comes from the Atrial kick (A wave). In normal diastolic function, the E wave should be larger than the A wave because most of the blood enters the ventricle during relaxation, with the atrial kick subsidizing this.

Look at the diagram below to see how the E/A wave changes with the different grades of diastolic dysfunction. In our patient, the A wave was larger than the E wave so we knew this patient had grade 1 diastolic dysfunction, i.e. impaired relaxation. This happens when the stiff ventricle no longer pulls most of the blood in with relaxation (as relaxation is impaired), so the atrial kick does most of the diastolic filling. Our patient was admitted to cardiology for IV diuresis and medical optimization.

For patients whose E wave is larger than their A wave, it can be unclear whether this is a normal, pseudonormal or restrictive pattern. Tissue doppler can help further assess whether this. Place the doppler gate at the mitral valve annulus to assess left ventricular muscle relaxation. As diastolic dysfunction worsens, the ability of the left ventricle to relax will progressively worsen. Looking at the diagram below again, we see that in normal diastolic function the e' wave will be larger than the a', but as the ventricle loses its ability to relax the e' wave will get smaller. If the e' is the same size or smaller than the a' this represents diastolic dysfunction. 

diastolic dysfunction

Learning Points:

  • Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction makes up half of the patients with heart failure.
  • HFpEF can be assessed in the apical four chamber view by evaluating the mitral valve inflow at the leaflet tips and tissue doppler at the annulus.
  • The E wave is blood flow through the mitral valve during early diastole and the A wave is during the atrial kick.
  • In one study, sensitivity and specificity of diagnosing clinically significant diastolic dysfunction was 92% and 69% respectively for emergency physician conducted echocardiography (1).


This post was written by Megan Jackson, PGY1 at UCSD Emergency Medicine Residency Program, Charles Murchison, MD and Amir Aminlari MD

Case # 22: Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

abdominal aortic aneurysm


A 72 year old male with known abdominal aortic aneurysm (5.7 cm s/p fem-tib bypass, L AKA) presents for 3 weeks with diarrhea and mild LLQ pain. No nausea, vomiting, fever, back pain, urinary symptoms, or blood in stool. He has no localizing abdominal exam & no peritoneal signs, strong even radial pulses, and normal cardiopulmonary exam. On further chart review, patient is noted to have a 5+ cm aorta for the past 2 years, with the most recent CT scan a few weeks ago showing growth from 5.5 cm to 5.7 cm. An abdominal ultrasound is performed with the following findings.


T 98.7 HR 64 BP 167/80 RR 18 O2 100%

What are we concerned about for this patient and why? What is the interpretation of the abdominal ultrasound? What are the next steps for management in the ED?


Courtesy of The Pocus Atlas

Answer and Learning Points


The patient’s presenting complaints (diarrhea, mild abdominal pain) do not coincide with the classic triad of ruptured AAA (hypotension, back pain, pulsatile abdominal mass). In addition, this patient is hemodynamically stable and comfortable, which is reassuring. However, ruptured AAA can have a wide variety of presentations and should always be considered in patients with known large AAA. In addition, this patient had a known AAA >5 cm for the past two years with poor vascular surgery follow-up, and the risk for rupture for AAA’s 5.0-5.9cm increases by 5-10% each year. (1)

As this patient recently had a CT scan a few weeks ago revealing large, stable AAA, the decision was made to investigate via ultrasound rather than undergo more radiation from CT. Ultrasound is also highly sensitive and specific for detecting AAA. (2) The above images show the AAA has a large intramural thrombus with no evidence of leaking fluid nor dissection flap. The AAA is stable, measuring a similar width of 5.7 cm. The clinician can investigate further by doing a RUSH exam to reassure against intraperitoneal bleeding and other types of shock. Elective aortic surgery is recommended for patients with AAA >5.5 cm, because at this threshold the risk of rupture is greater than risk of surgery, therefore it is reasonable to consult vascular surgery for this patient in the ED. (1)


Learning Points

  • Ruptured AAA being a surgical emergency and nearly uniformly fatal. Risk of rupture is proportional to size of AAA:AAA rupture risk
  • Elective aortic surgery is the most effective management, however, is not recommended until the aneurysm exceeds 5.5 cm diameter. In the ED setting, it is reasonable to consult vascular surgery for an asymptomatic patient with an incidental finding of aneurysm >5.5 cm. (1)
  • A systematic review of seven studies (n=655) evaluated operating characteristics of emergency department ultrasonography for AAA. With AAA defined as >3cm dilation of aorta, the review showed that ultrasound yielded excellent diagnostic performance. (2)

  • An effective abdominal aortic ultrasound requires:

(1) Evaluation of the entire aorta from the subxiphoid area to the iliac branch bifurcation. Most abdominal aortic aneurysms lie in the infrarenal aorta.

(2) Moving bowel gas out of the way with the probe with either graded compression or curvilinear probe with larger footprint

(3) Careful differentiation aorta from IVC. The aorta will be anterior to the vertebrae and the left of the IVC.

(4) Measuring outer to outer wall. Clot can create can second inner wall and falsely decrease aortic width measurement.


(1) Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms (AAA) - Cardiovascular Disorders. Merck Manuals Professional Edition. Accessed July 9, 2020.

(2) Rubano E, Mehta N, Caputo W, Paladino L, Sinert R. Systematic review: emergency department bedside ultrasonography for diagnosing suspected abdominal aortic aneurysm. Acad Emerg Med. 2013;20(2):128-138. doi:10.1111/acem.12080

(3) Michelle H-B. Tips and Tricks: Big Red - The Aorta and How to Improve Your Image. ACEP Emergency Ultrasound. Accessed July 9, 2020.

This post was written by Caresse Vuong, MS4, Charles Murchison, MD and Amir Aminlari MD

Case # 21: A 28 Year Old With Shortness of Breath

echo d sign


A previously healthy 28-year-old male presents to the Emergency Department complaining of one month of fatigue, shortness of breath, and dyspnea on exertion. These symptoms were preceded by symptoms of a viral illness which initially improved; however, he had recurrence of symptoms two weeks ago. He was seen at urgent care five days ago and was given steroids and albuterol without improvement. The patient otherwise denies any infectious symptoms, leg swelling, or risk factors for pulmonary embolus or deep vein thrombosis.  

VS: T: 97.7F    BP: 129/87.    HR: 109     RR: 16.    SP02: 95%

Patient is alert and oriented, non-toxic in no distress, and behaving appropriately. Cardiac exam shows a RRR, no murmurs, rubs, or gallops. Lung exam is consistent with shallow breaths and dyspnea with conversation, otherwise lungs are CTAB with no wheezing, rales, or rhonchi. The patient has no chest wall tenderness, no JVD, and no lower extremity edema.

You perform a bedside ECHO and you see the following. What do you see and what is your most likely diagnosis? What is your next step in management?

apical 4 rv strain
psla rv strain
pssa rv strain

Answer and Learning Points


In all three cardiac views, there is dilation of the right side of the heart. In the parasternal short axis you see septal bowing into the left side of the heart, also known as the “D” sign (named after the shape of the left ventricle). These findings are indicative of elevated right sided pressure, or right heart strain, which can be seen in conditions such as acute pulmonary embolism, pulmonary hypertension, COPD, and right ventricular infarction. Given the relatively thin free wall of the right ventricle, the likely cause of right heart strain in the above scenario is an acute process.

The patient had a CT scan that revealed extensive pulmonary emboli in all segmental and subsegmental arterial divisions of the lung with findings consistent with pulmonary artery hypertension and severe right heart strain. The EKG obtained had evidence of right heart strain including right axis deviation and diffuse T-wave inversions. The patient was started on heparin and admitted to the ICU.

Learning Points

  • The reported sensitivity and specificity of echocardiography in demonstrating right heart dysfunction are around 56% and 42% respectively (1)
  • Described features of right heart dysfunction include (2)
    1. Dilation of the right ventricle
      • The RV normally appears triangular-shaped and is two-thirds the size of the LV in apical four view (3)
    1. Interventricular septal flattening
      • AKA the “D sign” on parasternal short view or paradoxical septal motion on apical four view
    1. Right ventricular hypertrophy (right ventricular free wall thickness >5mm in diastole)
      • When present, implies some degree of chronicity to the inciting hemodynamic insult
    1. Right ventricular hypokensia
      • Typically quantified as a tricuspid annular plane systolic excursion, as measured by M-mode from the apical 4 chamber view, <1.6 cm
    1. Plethoric vena cava


  1. He, H., et-al. Computed tomography evaluation of right heart dysfunction in patients with acute pulmonary embolism. J Comput Assist Tomogr. 2006;30 (2): 262-6.
  2. Rudski, L.G., et al. Guidelines for the echocardiographic assessment of the right heart in adults: a report from the American Society of Echocardiography endorsed by the European Association of Echocardiography, a registered branch of the European Society of Cardiology, and the Canadian Society of Echocardiography. (2010) Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography : official publication of the American Society of Echocardiography. 23 (7): 685-713
  3. Mallin, M, Dawson, M. Introduction to Bedside Ultrasound: Volume 2. Emergency Ultrasound Solutions, 2013. Apple Books. Accessed April 17th, 2020.

The following authors contributed to this post:

Danika Brodak, MD; Amir Aminlari, MD; Rachna Subramony, MD; Colleen Campbell, MD

Case # 20: Right Lower Quadrant Pain

A 40 year old male presented with a 4 day history of right lower quadrant pain. He reported that the pain was at its worse when it started but gradually improved. When in the ED he noted only minimal discomfort without the help of analgesics.  He denied ever having anorexia, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, GU complaints. During examination, he had moderate tenderness to palpation in the right lower quadrant without rebound or guarding. 

Vitals:  T 97.7F    BP 130/77    HR 66    RR 16   SP02 100%

An abdominal ultrasound of the RLQ was performed and the following images were seen. What do you see and what is your most likely diagnosis? (4) (2)

Answer and Learning Points


In both the longitudinal and transverse views, you see a tubular structure in the right lower quadrant that is non- compressible, greater than 6mm (measures 15.6 mm), and lacks peristalsis. You can also appreciate some dependent free fluid around the appendix. These findings are consistent with the diagnosis of acute appendicitis.

CT abdomen/pelvis showed a retrocecal appendix with finding of acute uncomplicated appendicitis. No bowel obstruction or intra-abdominal/pelvic abscesses. Labs showed a slight leukocytosis to 14, otherwise were reassuring. Patient was given a dose of Zosyn in the emergency department and take to the OR for appendectomy by general surgery.

Learning Points

    • Appendicitis is the most common abdominal surgical emergency that presents to the ED in western countries [1]. 
    • The sensitivity and specificity of ultrasound for the diagnosis of appendicitis appears to be around 86% and 81%, respectively, based on results from older studies [2]. 
    • Ultrasound can be used to diagnosis acute appendicitis and may be the imaging modality of choice in certain patient populations such as pregnant women and children [3]. 
    • To obtain images you can use either the linear or curvilinear probe. Ask the patient to point where exactly they hurt and place the probe there. If you don’t see it you can use the landmark of the iliac crest (most lateral), psoas muscle (posterior), and iliac artery (most medial). Move superior and inferior along the iliac artery and the appendix should be just anterior to iliac artery. If you still haven’t found it, “lawnmower” along the right lower quadrant. Look for a tubular, blind ended pouch that has no peristalsis. It should be compressible and measure <6mm in AP diameter [4]. 


    1. Caterino, S., et al. Acute abdominal pain in emergency surgery. Clinical epidemiologic study study of 450 patients. Ann Ital Chir. 1997; 68: 807-817.
    2. Lim H, Bae S, Seo G: Diagnosis of acute appendicitis in pregnant women: value of sonography. AJR Am J Roentgenol 1992;159(3): 539–542.
    3. Excerpt From: Mike Mallin & Matthew Dawson. “Introduction to Bedside Ultrasound: Volume 2.” Emergency Ultrasound Solutions, 2013. Apple Books., M, Dawson, M. Introduction to Bedside Ultrasound: Volume 2. Emergency Ultrasound Solutions, 2013. Apple Books. Accessed April 18th, 2020.


The following authors contributed to this post:

Amir Aminlari, MD; Danika Brodak, MD; Michael Macias, MD

Case # 19: Under Pressure

A 27 year-old female presented to the emergency department with a two week history of headache, posterior eye pain, visual changes. She denied trauma, fever, focal neurological changes, or visual field deficits. She was seen by the optometrist earlier in the day and was sent to the ED for further evaluation.  Her neurological examination was normal. 

Eye exam: PERRL, EOMI, no injection/discharge, visual acuity 20/15 OS, 20/20 OD, IOP L19, R19

An ocular ultrasound is performed and the images below are seen. What do you see and what is your most likely diagnosis? What is your management? (59)

Left eye (58)

 Right eye

Answer and Learning Points


On both images of the right and left eye you see papilledema which is demonstrated as a bulging optic disc protruding into the posterior chamber.

CT Head non-contrast was obtained which showed " a partially empty pituitary sella which can be seen with intracranial hypertension, otherwise no acute findings." Ophthalmology was consulted. Their exam was unremarkable except for bilateral papilledema. An LP was performed which showed an elevated OP at 36. After large volume CSF removal the patient reported improvement in symptoms. Closing pressure was 22. The CSF studies were unremarkable. Patient was discharged with an MRI/MRV performed as outpatient and neuro-ophthalmology follow up. MRI brain showed mild flattening of the optic nerve heads which is nonspecific but could correlate with intracranial hypertension in the right clinical setting. 

Learning Points

    • Papilledema may be directly visualized with ultrasound as a bulging optic disc elevated more than 0.6mm from the retina. There are also studies that show a correlation between increased intracranial pressure and optic sheath nerve diameter greater than 5mm when measured 3mm posterior to the retina. (1-4)
    • A width of > 5mm has a pooled sensitivity of 90% and specificity of 85% for detecting an ICP > 20mmHg in trauma patients with head injuries (5-6)
    • It is important to note that the optic nerve sheath diameter should be measured when the sides are parallel, as it can be artificially increased otherwise.  (7)
    • When obtaining an ocular ultrasound use the high frequency linear probe on the ocular setting. If there is not an ocular setting, it is best to err on the high side with regard to gain.
    • Although controversial, some sources advise to avoid ocular ultrasound when concerned about globe rupture as any pressure on the eye could worsening the rupture.


    1. Marchese, R.F., et al. Identification of optic nerve swelling using point-of-care ocular ultrasound in children. Pediatric Emergency Care. 2018; 34(8):531-536. 
    2. Kimberly, H.H., Shah, S., Marill, K., & Noble, V. Correlation of optic nerve sheath diameter with direct measurement of intracranial pressure. Academic Emergency Medicine. 2008; 15(2):201-4. 
    3. Amini, A., et al. Use of the sonographic diameter of optic nerve sheath to estimate intracranial pressure. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2013; 31(1):236-9.
    4. Xu, W., Gerety, P., Aleman, T., Swanson, J., & Taylor, J. Noninvasive methods of detecting increased intracranial pressure. Child’s Nervous System. 2016; 32(8):1371-86. 
    5. Dubourg, J., et al. Ultrasonography of optic nerve sheath diameter for detection of raised intracranial pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Intensive Care Medicine. 2011;37(7):1059–1068.
    6. Rajajee, V., Vanaman, M., Fletcher, J.J., & Jacobs, T.L. Optic nerve ultrasound for the detection of raised intracranial pressure. Neurocritical Care. 2011;15(3):506–515.
    7. Mallin, M, Dawson, M. Introduction to Bedside Ultrasound: Volume 2. Emergency Ultrasound Solutions, 2013. Apple Books. Accessed April 17th, 2020.

The following authors contributed to this post:

Amir Aminlari, MD; Danika Brodak, MD; Michael Macias, MD; Rachna Subramony, MD

Case # 18: Respiratory Distress: It’s not all COVID.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a 67 year old woman is brought to the ER by family for respiratory distress and altered mental status. She was alert but not oriented and unable to answer questions on arrival with moderate respiratory distress. Family stated that she had a history of asthma and takes "other" medications, but where otherwise unaware of her past medical history. She had been using her inhaler without relief and has not had any sick contacts, cough or fever. 

Vitals: T: 98.7, HR: 112, BP: 190/110, RR: 40, SpO2 80 on RA

She was in moderate respiratory distress, crackles on exam, no pitting edema. She was placed on a non-breather (avoiding NIPPV) and a thoracic plus cardiac ECHO was preformed. 

After reviewing the images, what would you do next?



CHF vs COVID 1.1 (4)
IVC gif

Answer and Learning Points


The images would suggest that this patient is most likely suffering from heart failure with an acute exacerbation. There are diffuse B-lines, obvious decrease contractility and a dilated IVC. These images are not typical of COVID-19 infections, which have pleural thickening and scattered b-lines (see COVID section).  This patient was put on a nitro drip and given diuretics, with a significant improvement in her respiratory status in the ER. She ultimately tested COVID negative and was discharged from the hospital after aggressive diuresis. 

During the same shift, numerous COVID-19 positive patients were seen. Below are images of COVID-19 cases for comparison and more can be found at The POCUS Atlas. 

While the sensitivity and specificity of ultrasound to diagnosis COVID-19 has yet to be determined, this case illustrates how alternative findings can still impact clinical care and potentially avoid intubation. 



On the same shift, numerous COVID-19 patients were also seen, with variable pre-test probability. ECHO for these patients would not reveal an alternative diagnosis (such as our CHF case). There were however some classic findings on ultrasound. Note below two patients with thoracic scans. There are scattered B-lines (unlike our CHF patient, who had diffuse B-lines). There is also pleural thickening and at times an irregular pleural border. 

COVID patient 1
thicker pleural lining


Sukhdeep Singh, MD. Clinical Faculty, UCSD Department of Emergency Medicine. Director of POCUS, El Centro Regional Medical Center.


  1. DeRose et al, How to Perform Pediatric Lung Ultrasound Examinations in the Time of COVID‐19. Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine. 22 April 2020.
  2. The POCUS Atlas.

Case # 17: Par for the Course

An 80 year old man presents to a rural emergency room at 3am with abdominal pain. His past medical history is significant for mild hemophilia A. Six hours prior to arrival, he was driving a golf cart when he struck a pole and the steering wheel hit his stomach.

He initially had no symptoms but began to have abdominal pain while trying to sleep. He also became nauseated and vomited once. He eventually called EMS and was brought to the ER. On arrival, his vitals are as follows. 

Vitals: T: 90.7, HR: 108, BP: 74/48, RR: 28, SpO2 98 on 4L

He is alert, oriented and his only complaint is abdominal pain. A FAST exam was done. What do you see? What are your next steps?


pick me 1
pick me 2

Answer and Learning Points


Although the quality of images is lacking due to the urgency of the situation and the patient's body habitus, the first image (RUQ) does not show obvious free fluid. The following images (suprapubic and LUQ) clearly show free fluid in the abdomen. 

An emergent evacuation of the patient to a level 1 Trauma service was requested. Patient was transfused with two units of O blood. Due to his history of hemophilia A, the patient was also given factor VIII to 100% repletion. The patient was taken to the OR at the level 1 trauma center where he was found to have a greater omental bleed and was successfully treated with clot evacuation and laceration repair. He was placed on a factor VIII drip postop. 

Learning Points

    • Per ATLS guidelines, a hypotensive patient with a + FAST and no other signs of bleeding warrants immediate surgical exploration. 
    • In a 2018 meta-analysis, a positive FAST has a sensitivity of 68% and a specificity of 95%. Therefore a negative FAST does not rule out the disease, but a positive fast in the correct clinical sitting (such as this) does rule in hemoperitoneum(1). 
    • Hemophiliac patients require factor VIII replacement to 100% in the setting of major trauma, which is typically 50 IU/kg(2). 


Feigenbaum, Adam, PA-C. Emergency Medicine Fellow, Naval Medical Center San Diego.

Sukhdeep Singh, MD. Clinical Faculty, UCSD Department of Emergency Medicine. Director of POCUS, El Centro Regional Medical Center.


  1. Stengel D et al. Point-of-care ultrasonography for diagnosing thoracoabdominal injuries in patients with blunt trauma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018. Dec 12;12
  2. Guidelines for Emergency Department Management of Individuals with Hemophilia and Other Bleeding Disorders. December 5, 2019


Case # 16: The Smoking Gun

A 32 year-old woman with history of pleurisy and systemic lupus erythematosus presented to the emergency department with three weeks of shortness of breath and pleuritic chest pain, acutely worse one day prior to arrival.

She flew into San Diego three days prior to her hospital presentation. She became dyspneic when walking from her hotel bed to the bathroom. On review of systems, she did endorse 3 weeks of right lower leg cramping. She denied fever/chills, cough, back pain, or history of blood clots. She was tachypneic and speaking in short phrases upon arrival.

Vitals: T: 98.3, HR: 130, BP: 142/88, RR: 24, SpO2 97% on RA

A bedside ultrasound ECHO and lower extremity scan was preformed.  What do you see?
RV strain gif
dvt gif 2

Answer and Learning Points


These ultrasound images show an apical 4 chamber and parasternal short view of the heart, as well as a right lower extremity DVT. The apical 4 chamber demonstrates right ventricular dilation with bowing of the septum into the left ventricle. The parasternal short illustrates “D sign” with right ventricular dilation and bowing/flattening of the interventricular septum leading to decreased left ventricular systolic function. Both views indicate right heart strain in the setting of likely pulmonary embolism. The right lower extremity showed a noncompressible right femoral vein, indicating DVT.

TPA was prepared and ready to give incase patient had worsening hemodynamic instability. She was fortuantley able to tolerate further imaging without HD compromise; CT angio confirmed the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism in bilateral main pulmonary arteries extending into all 5 lobes. Half dose TPA was administered and the patient was admitted to the ICU.

Learning Points

    • Identification of right ventricular dilatation on point-of-care echocardiography for the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism has a sensitivity of 50%, but a specificity of 98%1
    • Patients who present normotensive but have signs of cardiac dysfunction secondary to a PE are classified as submassive, and thrombolytic therapy should be considered2
    • When combining echocardiogram with lower extremity ultrasound, the sensitivity and specificity of cardiac US are 91% and 87%, respectively. Venous US shows a lower sensitivity 56%, but higher specificity 95% than cardiac. When cardiac and venous US are both positive the specificity increases to 100%, whereas when at least one was positive the sensitivity increased to 95.3
    • There is a broad differential of patients presenting to the emergency department with chest pain and shortness of breath. Point-of-care transthoracic cardiac ultrasound in the ED is an effective tool to promptly diagnose acute pulmonary embolism with right heart strain, and rapidly guide management.4,5 This patient with a history of lupus and pericarditis could have presented with cardiac tamponade, and ultrasound did show a small circumferential pericardial effusion, but did not show a collapsing right ventricle that would be expected in tamponade (instead, a dilated RV is seen).6


Nicolas Kahl, MD. Emergency Medicine Resident. UCSD Department of Emergency Medicine.

Jessica Oswald, MD. Clinical Faculty, UCSD Department of Emergency Medicine. 

Sukhdeep Singh, MD. Clinical Faculty, UCSD Department of Emergency Medicine. Director of POCUS, El Centro Regional Medical Center.


  1. Dresden S, et al. Right Ventricular dilatation on bedside echocardiography performed by emergency physicians aids in diagnosis of pulmonary embolism. Ann Emerg Med; 2014 Jan; 63(1):16-24
  2. Malik Sonika et al. Advanced Management Options for Massive and Submassive Pulmonary Embolism. USC US Cardiology Review. 2016 Feb. 
  3. Nazerian P, et al.Diagnostic accuracy of focused cardiac and venous ultrasound examinations in patients with shock and suspected pulmonary embolism.Intern Emerg Med. 2018 Jun;13(4):567-574
  4. Fields JM, et al. Transthoracic Echocardiography for Diagnosing Pulmonary Embolism: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.J Am Soc Echocardiogr. 2017
  5. Kahl N, et al. Point-of-care Ultrasound Diagnosis of Pulmonary Embolism with Thrombus in Transit.Clin Pract Cases Emerg Med. 2019 Feb; 3(1): 11–12.
  6. Singh, S., et al., Usefulness of right ventricular diastolic collapse in diagnosing cardiac tamponade and comparison to pulsus paradoxus.Am J Cardiol, 1986. 57(8): p. 652-6.

Case # 15: When Lines Go Wild

A 35 year old woman with sickle cell disease presented to the emergency department with localized swelling and pain near her port site. The pain started two days prior to arrival, when she was at an infusion center and her port was found to be inaccessible by the staff. She stated that the staff were unable to draw back any blood. She denied shortness of breath, chest pain, fever, or any other skin changes aside from the swelling.

Vitals: T: 97.8, HR: 64, BP: 144/80, RR: 16, Sat: 96% on RA

A bedside ultrasound ECHO was preformed to evaluate the distal tip of the port.  What do you see?

Answer and Learning Points


These ultrasound images show an apical 4 view of the heart. There is a hyperechoic mass in the right atrium that does not shadow, suggestive of a line thrombosis. A CT angio confirmed the diagnosis, showing a large clot adhered to the distal tip of the catheter.

Learning Points

    • Catheter-related complications are common and are the cause of significant morbidity and mortality for patients that have chronic indwelling lines. Symptomatic rates are reported to be 5% with asymptomatic rates increasing to nearly 20%(1).
    • Typical imaging beings with an upper extremity ultrasound. However, challenges arise as compression is unattainable when dealing with subclavian vessels(2). CT can improve the sensitivity and specificity(3).
    • In our case, a DVT ultrasound would not have been adequate, as the port is inserted over the subclavian vessel. However, a clot located in the heart can be easily detected on a cardiac echo. A CT angio was used to confirm there was a clot adhered to the line, but no pulmonary embolism.
    • Ultrasound can be used to evaluate for RV strain and at times may note RA thrombosis (such as in this case), clots in transit, and can be helpful in evaluating lines that extend into the right atrium/right ventricle.  

Ultrasound findings of clots on the cardiac echo:

Non-adhered clots will typically be floating/tumbling with cardiac motion. Since they are non-calcified, shadowing does not typically occur.

Right Atrial Thrombus
Dr. Scheels. The POCUS Atlas.

This can be difficulty to distingue from other masses, such as an atrial myxoma. However the correct clinical context is able to help.

Atrial Myxoma
Dr. Russell. The POCUS Atlas.

Using echo to check line placement/wire tips is not uncommon. Obtaining an apical 4 view as done in this case, one can evaluate the right atrium and right ventricle.

Dr. Ftacnikova et al. 3D ECHO 360.


Sukhdeep Singh, MD. Clinical Faculty, UCSD Department of Emergency Medicine. Director of POCUS, El Centro Regional Medical Center


  1. Verso M, Agnelli GJ. Venous thromboembolism associated with long-term use of central venous catheters in cancer patientsJ Clin Oncol 2003; 21: 3665–3675.
  2. Sartori M, Migliaccio L, Favaretto E, et al. Whole-Arm Ultrasound to Rule Out Suspected Upper-Extremity Deep Venous Thrombosis in Outpatients. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(7):1226–1227. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.1683
  3. Gita Yashwantrao Karande, Sandeep S. Hedgire, Yadiel Sanchez, Vinit Baliyan, Vishala Mishra, Suvranu Ganguli, Anand M. Prabhakar
    Cardiovasc Diagn Ther. 2016 Dec; 6(6): 493–507. doi: 10.21037/cdt.2016.12.06

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.
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