UMEM Educational Pearls

Despite a lack of prospective data, end-tidal CO2 (ETCO2) is often proposed as a viable replacement for the traditional pulse check to identify return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) in patients presenting to the Emergency Department in Cardiac Arrest. A recent study by Tat et al examined this very question. The authors prospectively enrolled 178 patients suffering out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) and examined the accuracy of a rise in ETCO2 at predicting ROSC. The authors examined both a rise of 10 and 20 mm Hg in ETCO2. Of the 178 patients included in this cohort, 60 (34%) experienced ROSC. The sensitivity and specificity of ETCO2 to predict ROSC at a threshold of 10 mm Hg was 33% and 97% respectively. At a threshold of 20 mm Hg ETCO2 performed no better with a sensitivity and specificity of 20% and 99% respectively.

What this data suggests is while a rise of ETCO2 of greater than 10 is highly suggestive of ROSC, the contrary cannot be said. The absence of a spike in ETCO2 does not rule out ROSC, as the large majority of patients experiencing ROSC in this cohort did so without demonstrating a significant rise in ETCO2. This evidence suggests that ETCO2 is a poor surrogate for a pulse check.


Tat LC, Ming PK, Leung TK, Abrupt rise of end tidal carbon dioxide level was a specific but non sensitive marker of return of spontaneous circulation in patient with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, Resuscitation (2016),