SonoCase: 72yo back pain & hypotensive – by Dr. Calvin Hwang @helixcardinal #FOAMus #FOAMed

Another great guest post! – by Dr. Calvin Hwang, aka @helixcardinal  – as well as the senior resident at Stanford/Kaiser EM program who updates the @StanfordEMRes residency twitter feed, provided an excellent case that illustrates a reason/indication to perform bedside ultrasound – especially the Echo/IVC and Aorta applications – illustrating why these applications are imperative to the RUSH protocol – along with good clinical judgement. Enjoy!

“Code 3 ringdown from EMS: 70 yo F coming in with 3 days of chest, back and abdominal pain, hypotensive with SBP in the 70s.

On arrival, patient is grimacing in pain, pale, diaphoretic.  She is otherwise healthy with no past medical history.  Just arrived from Thailand 1 week ago to visit her daughter and had been complaining of pain in her chest, back and abdomen.  Went to a primary care physician where she was noted to be hypotensive and sent to the ED.

Initial vital signs: BP 73/30, HR 110, T37.0, RR 25

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With the trusty bedside ultrasound, I immediately went to where I thought would be the diagnosis: ruptured AAA…..but…..

The abdominal aorta scan : I was shocked when I noticed it to be of normal caliber.  Nevertheless, I worked my way up the abdomen to the subxiphoid view when I saw:

Though it was atypical for the patient to be hypotensive and tachycardic, the presence of a pericardial effusion without tamponade suggested aortic dissection to me.  My attending got on the phone to prepare to transfer the patient while I contacted the radiologist to clear the CT scanner.  Though I attempted to view the descending aorta and aortic outflow tract on a more focused echo in the brief interim through a parasternal approach, I was unable to obtain good windows.  The IVC was plump and the rest of the FAST was negative.  A quick Chest XR was done:

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…..which did not show a wide mediastinum according to radiology.  The patient was whisked away to the CT scanner and within 45 minutes of ED arrival, the diagnosis of a Stanford type A aortic dissection with pericardial effusion (but not tamponade) was confirmed.  This would not have been possible without bedside ultrasound as I think most clinicians would have been falsely reassured by the normal CXR (widened mediastinum only present in 60% of aortic dissections1).

The patient was fluid resuscitated with crystalloid, her BP improved to 100/60 and HR came down to the 80s.  While awaiting transport, I attempted to place an arterial line for close BP monitoring.  However, approximately 60 minutes after ED arrival, the patient became progressively bradycardic and coded.  My institution’s cardiothoracic surgeons were already at bedside and performed a sternotomy with pericardial window.  Despite our efforts, we were never able to obtain return of spontaneous circulation and the patient was pronounced. These patients rarely make it to the ED due to how quickly they can decompensate, but if they do, quickening the diagnosis may help get them the intervention they need (clinical suspicion and appropriate use of bedside ultrasound is key), although a high mortality still exists.

  1. Aldeen A, Rosiere L.  “Focus on: Acute Aortic Dissection.” ACEP News, July 2009.

SonoCase: 32yo shortness of breath – by @Medialapproach #FOAMed

We have had some great additions of guest posts of cases where ultrasound mattered and helped with their diagnosis and treatment. Below is a case from Vince DiGiulio, an EMT and ED tech extraordinaire and more! – also known as@MedialApproach of the as well as the founder of a great Google+ account on ultrasound. Read his case below and enjoy!
“In this case I was able to nail down the cause of the patient’s symptoms in 5 minutes, and I’m only an EMT whose US teaching has come entirely from online resources like SonoSpot. Here’s the story:

It’s a hot summer’s day and you are working a busy shift in the Minor Care unit of a community ED when a 31 year-old man presents with a chief-complaint of shortness of breath (SOB).

He states that he has been feeling SOB on exertion for the past 3-4 weeks, having attended the walk-in two weeks prior with the same complaint. There he was diagnosed with asthma and given an albuterol MDI, a course of PO steroids, and also a course of PO azithromycin “in case it was something more.” His symptoms had not improved so he decided to attend the ED for another opinion.

From the doorway you see a moderately overweight (5’9” 200#) Caucasian male in no acute distress. He is exhibiting a normal respiratory rate with no elevated work of breathing. His skin is warm and of normal color, but upon closer inspection you’re a bit surprised to notice he is actually moderately diaphoretic. He chalks it up to the outside temperature of 90 F, but it’s a chilly 70 F in the department and he’s been seated in bed for at least 20 minutes. “Hmmm,” you say to yourself.

Vital signs at rest are as follows: HR 115 bpm, RR 20/min, BP 122/68 mmHg, Temp 37.1 C.

On auscultation he has a bit of bi-basilar rales.

After obtaining a history, you head back to your desk to enter some orders when you see that an ECG and CXR were already performed at triage.

32yo M - SOB on Exertion x 3 wks_ECG


The ECG shows sinus tachycardia, left-atrial abnormality, left-axis deviation, poor R-wave progression, large S-wave in the right-precordial leads, and secondary ST and T-wave changes. This picture is consistent with left-ventricular hypertrophy.

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The CXR was read by radiology as “mild-to-moderate cardiomegaly, new from prior film (2 years ago), consider pericardial effusion.”

This Minor Care case is starting to get a bit more complicated and you’re beginning to wish you had seen the patient with chronic low-back pain instead. Not quite sure what to make of this patient’s presentation and afraid of backing up the whole department while you try to make a hard-sell on this young, otherwise healthy patient to cardiology, you instead grab your trusty ultrasound machine and head for the bedside. Here is what you see.


In this apical 4-chamber view, you first notice that all four chambers are markedly dilated and hypokinetic. Looking specifically at the left-ventricle, it exhibits with severe hypokinesis throughout, maybe with a touch of apical akinesis. Looking closely at the apex of the LV also shows that there is an apical mural thrombus, often seen in patients with akinesis or severe hypokinesis of that region.


As evidenced by the obvious blue jet in the left-atrium, this color-Doppler image of the mitral valve demonstrates significant mitral regurgitation. At formal echocardiography it was graded as “moderate, 2+ mitral regurgitation.”

32yo M Mitral Doppler


This pulsed-wave Doppler image shows monophasic flow through the mitral valve with a nearly absent A-wave. This proves that in addition to systolic dysfunction, the patient has significant diastolic dysfunction as well in a restrictive pattern.


Here is a mid-ventricle parasternal short-axis view that further demonstrates the global hypokinesis of the left ventricle. It is also clear that the ventricle is large and dilated, but not hypertrophied. In this patient’s Cardiology echo, his ejection fraction was estimated in the range of 10-15%. I’m an inexperienced echocardiographer, but in addition to global hypokinesis I might specifically see some anterior-wall akinesis here as well.


This parasternal long axis view offers a final example of the patient’s global hypokinesis, along with a nice shot of the mitral valve. The aortic valve is also in view, but not clearly seen. Notably there is also no sign of pericardial effusion, often visible in this view if present.

So what’s our final impression? Summarizing all of the specific findings listed above, this patient has a dilated cardiomyopathy. While the workup and management of this patient could encompass a week’s worth of posts, here are the main take-home points from this case:

  1. Beware patients who are diaphoretic or tachycardic at rest. Afebrile and in no acute distress, it became essential to find a source of this patient’s few abnormalities on physical exam.
  2. Don’t be afraid of ultrasound in the Minor Care department. We like to talk a lot about the utility of ultrasound during a patient’s resuscitation, but it can be equally useful in an ambulatory setting as well.
  3. Bedside ultrasound expedites care. Without bedside ultrasound this patient would have been waiting around hours (or days) for a formal echo, if it was going to be performed at all.
  4. Sell! Sell! Sell! In most circumstances cardiology would have been very reluctant to come see an otherwise healthy 31 year-old patient, but in this case the bedside images provided immediate and definitive proof that the patient needed specialty care. It also probably gained us some street-cred with the cardiologist who could look at the saved images right in the department.
  5. Shoot first, ask questions later. In a case like this, there is no need to perform an extensive interpretation of your images at the bedside. From the very first view it was clear the patient had a dilated cardiomyopathy, so cardiology was immediately paged and the patient was readied for admission. During that time additional views were quickly obtained for later evaluation, but that first shot told us all we needed to know to make a disposition on the patient.
    As an ECG nerd, I liken it to reading the tracing of a patient with a profound wide-complex tachycardia. At the bedside there is rarely any need to get too fancy differentiating VT from SVT with aberrancy since the WCT algorithm is safe and effective for both, but once the patient is stabilized I can then go back and look for signs of AV-dissociation on the ECG to really prove it was VT.
    You think I noticed the apical thrombus in this patient’s AP4 view? No-way! That’s something Mike Mallin of the Ultrasound Podcast picked up for me when I shared the case with him. I didn’t even know how to read a pulsed-wave Doppler at the time I met the patient, but I knew how to capture the image at the level of the mitral valve so that I could review and learn from it later.

Anyway, thanks to bedside US (and you!) this patient ended up having his dilated cardiomyopathy recognized and promptly treated. Without these surprising images there’s a really good chance this patient would have been symptomatically treated for his SOB in the ED and then discharged back home. If anything, being able to reference these clips gave our emergency physician a very strong card to play in getting cardiology to take the case seriously.”

SonoCase: Renal Ultrasound for Renal Colic: a cost/benefit analysis? by @EPMonthly #FOAMed

Once again, Drs. Teresa Wu and Brady Pregerson do an excellent job in highlighting a case in EP Monthly (and a topic that I am so incredibly passionate about – not only because of the benefit to the patient, the minimizing of CT scans/radiation, and the time spent in its work up – but also in health care cost and expediting diagnosis and management.) What am I talking about? Well, RENAL ULTRASOUND for RENAL COLIC. Yeah, I know, it sounds obvious. But, I heard of a patient the other day (again!) who had a known history of kidney stones, who had the same pain as her prior kidney stone flank pain, who begged to not have yet another CT scan done since it would have been her 13th for this at the age of 40. I highlighted this topic and other studies on it in a prior post, and AIUM posted a sound judgment series written by Drs. Chris Moore and Leslie Scoutt on this topic too.

So, let’s talk about TWu and Brady’s addition to the mix. Of course, they always start off their case with humor, yet reality, by saying : “I have to do a cost-benefit analysis of the situation,” your eager intern replies. It’s the end of the academic year and you are forcing your soon-to-be R2s to become more autonomous and confident in their management plans. You are amazed at the various answers you now get when you ask the simple question, “What do you want to do?” You ask your intern to summarize the case for you. He just finished evaluating a 21-year-old male who presented to your ED with back pain. The patient states that his “back is killing him” and he thinks he strained his muscles working out too hard at the gym last week. He just started doing CrossFit and he’s worried that he overdid it. The patient notes that the pain is 10/10 and that he has had minimal relief with his friend’s Vicodin. He’s tried icing his back and even sat in the hot tub all weekend per his friend’s recommendation. Nothing is working so his friend told him to come into the ED to get a prescription for something “stronger.”……

“Your question about whether or not this young 21 year old needs any imaging is giving him pause. “I think the cost of the imaging and the risk of radiation are too high. I don’t think there’s much benefit to keeping the patient here any longer. Plus I don’t know what we’d be looking for,” he replies. You are happy with your intern’s logic and pop into the room to see the patient. Within seconds, you realize that Vicodin and a hot tub probably won’t fix this patient’s pain. The patient is sitting hunched over on the stretcher rocking back and forth in pain. He has no appreciable tenderness to palpation over any of his back muscles, and there is no asymmetry or tightness on your exam. You are unable to reproduce or worsen his symptoms with testing his range of motion, but he is definitely rubbing his right lower back to try to ease his pain. You walk out of the patient’s room and grab your intern and the ultrasound machine. As you head back towards the patient’s room, you pimp your intern on the other more serious causes of low back pain. Acknowledging that you have the ultrasound machine in tow, your clever intern starts rattling off the diagnoses that can be easily made with bedside ultrasound. AAA, atypical appendicitis, cholecystitis, nephrolithiasis, abscess, etc. Since the patient is sitting upright and hunched over in pain, your intern decides to start his scan with a view of the right flank….”

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BAM! oh yeah – do you see it? Weren’t expecting that? Funny what happens when you look, right? You must read about their findings and the pearls and pitfalls of renal ultrasound – go here for the true meat of the article.

SonoCase: Pregnant pt with 1st trimester vaginal bleeding/pelvic pain in @EPMonthly #FOAMed

Drs. Teresa Wu and Brady Pregerson bring another engaging discussion to the great question: Should someone with a prior vaginal ultrasound for pregnancy evaluation get another one with repeat visits to the emergency department? Well, as they will describe, it may not be needed, but it sure does help patient satisfaction (and especially relief if they are concerned about their baby). So, if you do, it is all about your ability to interpret the images correctly. They identify some great vaginal/pelvic ultrasound pearls and pitfalls to keep in mind in the end of the following case:

“There are twenty-eight patients in the waiting room with the longest waiting 4 hours. The queue for CT scans is over 2 hours and the one for ultrasounds is even longer; a staggering 4 hours, plus another hour to get results. Lots of people are frustrated. Your next two patients are both pregnant females in their first trimester with vaginal bleeding. As you perform your H & P, you encounter more similarities between the two. Both have midline crampy pain like a period, with no fever, no vomiting, and no syncope. Both recently had ultrasounds done, one in your ED 3 days ago, and one with her obstetrician four days ago. You know why they are here. One reason – they want to see if their baby still has a heartbeat. You also know that repeating the ultrasound is not really medically indicated using the strict sense of the word. Sure it’s reasonable, even customary, but will it change management tonight? Can’t they just see their OB tomorrow? Is it really the right way to practice medicine to clog up your department even worse while simultaneously adding one more straw to the camel carrying the national healthcare budget? Who are you going to listen to? Press and Ganey? Barack Obama? Your conscience? What will the parents think and how will they react if you tell them, “Sorry, we can’t do an ultrasound tonight. You have to go home and make an appointment tomorrow to see your doctor.”?

The following ultrasound images are obtained in each patient:

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Do you know how to interpret them? Read more on vaginal ultrasound and their great pearls and pitfalls here.

Great pearls to keep in mind:

gestational sac only – early intrauterine pregnancy (IUP) or pseudosac of an ectopic pregnancy

gestational sac with yolks sac or fetal pole – early IUP

gestational sac with fetal pole and cardiac activity – LIVE IUP

For a review on the beta hcg (and if we can /should use ti anymore) and early pregnancy evaluation with ultrasound, go here.

SonoCase: 45 yr male- flank pain & hematuria- not always a kidney stone – by Dr. Marzec et al. in @westjem #FOAMed

Western Journal of Emergency Medicine must be great proponents of bedside ultrasound! I love that journal! Of course, I am biased as I am one of the section editors, but these cases deserve mention. There have been quite a few in the March 2013 issue and this case in particular is a great review of renal ultrasound and what to lookout for in bedside ultrasound. Limited renal ultrasound typically involves an evaluation for hydronephrosis, but it is important to know what normal ultrasound anatomy looks like, as you may identify something else…. Dr. Marzec et al. at USC do a great job at discussing their case, describing their ultrasound, and giving a literature review on the finding. The case:

“A 45-year-old male with no previous medical history presented to the emergency department (ED) with 1 week of hematuria and left flank pain. The patient had noted that over the preceding 4 days his urine had progressed from a pink color to dark red. He had also experienced left flank pain that was sharp, non-radiating, and increasing in severity over the week prior to presentation. He denied a history of renal calculi, weight loss, fevers, fatigue, or abdominal masses. Upon physical examination, his vital signs included blood pressure of 157/89 mmHg, heart rate of 64 beats/min, temperature of 97.4 °F, respiratory rate of 18 breaths/min, and oxygen saturation of 99% on room air. The patient appeared comfortable. His abdomen was soft, non-tender and non-distended. The patient had left-sided costo-vertebral angle tenderness to palpation. There was frank hematuria in the urine sample at bedside. Subsequent microscopic analysis revealed > 50 red blood cells and 4–10 white blood cells. Bedside emergency ultrasound (EUS), initially performed to look for hydronephrosis, showed ….”

To read on the case, what happened, and a great review of the literature of ultrasound’s utility with this finding compared to other imaging modalities, go here.

SonoCase: 54yr old abdominal pain, fever, vomiting – common US app by Dr. Hisset @emnews #FOAMed

The May 2013 issue of EM News highlights one of the basic, yet most difficult, ultrasound applications to perform. It is one of the most common abdominal applications given how common the disease process shows itself in the emergency department. Nice work to Dr. Hisset, a first year resident! from Louisiana, on writing this review.

The case: “A 54-year-old woman presents to the emergency department with four days of fever, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. She reports that all of this started after eating pork at a casino buffet. She is not jaundiced on exam, but has severe pain to palpation of the entire abdomen, worst in the right upper quadrant with a positive Murphy’s sign. Her blood pressure is 96/52 mm Hg, pulse is 110 bpm, and her temperature is 100.4°F. Fluid resuscitation is started, and a bedside ultrasound is performed.”

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 9.33.44 AMTo find out what they found and a description of the application in a concise format, go here.

SonoCase: 22yr old male blunt trauma to scrotum – by Dr. Cannis et al. in @westjem #FOAMed

March 2013 was a great month for ultrasound case reports and publications – especially in Western Journal of Emergency Medicine! Once again, the team from USC highlight a case where ultrasound is used at its best. As they state: “its greatest asset lies in the ability to rapidly make the diagnosis of a time-sensitive medical condition, enabling the [emergency phsyician] to mobilize resources and expedite treatment, which might otherwise be delayed. The use of [emergency] US for the evaluation of scrotal injury from blunt trauma exemplifies this point.” Isn’t it great when you include ultrasound in your examination of a patient who you will call a specialist for anyway, but to also describe the injury to them in detail, including whether there is hematoma, blood flow, or other findings – and expedite specialty care? YES! They do an excellent job in describing scrotal anatomy, the risks of missing injuries, and the findings of the case while reviewing scrotal ultrasound and the literature around it as well. This is worth the time to read it!

The case: “22-year-old male with no significant past medical history presented to the Emergency department approximately 3 hours after he was in an altercation, during which he sustained multiple blows to the head, stomach, and genital area with a large flashlight. His primary complaint was of severe testicular pain.

Physical examination revealed a calm, well-developed male in mild distress due to pain. Vital signs included a blood pressure 132/85 mmHg, heart rate of 90 beats per minute, respiratory rate 16 breaths per minute, and temperature 98.9°F. On examination of the genitals, the penis was normal. His scrotum was enlarged to approximately the size of a grapefruit, and the overlying skin was erythematous. The scrotal area was exquisitely tender to palpation, making it impossible to reliably identify or examine either testis, despite the use of parenteral opioid analgesia. A urinalysis was obtained, which was normal and notably negative for blood.” The ultrasound study showed:

Read on more, as there are more videos, and a great description of scrotal trauma and injuries with an evidence based review.


A great pictorial review of testicular ultrasound and pathology, go here.