UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Misc

Title: Glucometers

Keywords: Glucometer, Accuracy (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/15/2008 by Michael Bond, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Michael Bond, MD

The glucometer is one of the devices that we quickly reach for in the management of our unresponsive patients, diabetics and in the critically ill.  Recently, I noticed that our Roche Accu-Check has a big sticker on the case stating that results could be affected by therapies that alter the metabolism of galactose, maltose, and xylose.  Since this was a big hole in my fund of knowledge I decided to look up what else affects the accuracy of glucometers.

 Now, Dr. Winters already warned used about the inaccuracy of bedside glucometer readings in the critically ill, but what about the patient that is not septic and/or in shock.

Substances/Drugs that have been reported to affect the accuracy of glucometers are:

  • Levodopa
  • Dopamine
  • Mannitol
  • Acetaminophen
  • Severe lipemia
  • Severe unconguted bilirubin
  • Elevated Uric Acid
  • Maltose (present in immunoglobin products)
  • Patient on peritoneal dialysis secondary to Icodextrin
  • Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)

Anemia also results in higher values, and a capillary blood sample can differ from venous blood by as much as 70mg/dL.

Most errors are more significant when dealing with hypoglycemia. 

So the moral of the story is be careful with a bedside glucometer when the reading is low, as the venous blood sample sent to the lab may return even lower.  Error on the side of treating the patient with glucose.



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Category: Neurology

Title: Status Epilepticus

Keywords: status epilepticus, seizure (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/13/2008 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD

  • Exact definitions of status epilepticus vary. 
  • Generally speaking, status epilepticus is defined as a single unremitting seizure that lasts longer than 5 to 10 minutes OR greater than one generalized clinical seizure with no interictal return to clinical baseline.
  • While treatment with phenytoin and diazepam is often used for status, studies have shown that lorazepam use alone is more effective. 

Category: Toxicology

Title: Opioid Allergies and Cross-reactivity

Keywords: opioid, opiate, allergy, hypersensitivity (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/5/2008 by Bryan Hayes, PharmD (Emailed: 11/13/2008) (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Bryan Hayes, PharmD

How many times have you had a patient with an allergy to codeine described as stomach upset?  Or how about a rash with morphine (probably secondary to histamine release)?  True anaphylactic reactions to opioids are very rare (< 1%).  But what happens when you have a patient with a true allergy, but still need to give an opioid?  No problem, you just need to choose one that is structurally different.

  • Group 1 (aka opiates) - Naturally occurring agents derived from the opium plant
    • Morphine, codeine, thebaine
  • Group 2 - Semi-synthetics
    • Hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, buprenorphine (heroin is also in this group)
  • Group 3 - Synthetics
    • Fentanyl (alfentanil, sufentanil, etc.), methadone, tramadol, propoxyphene, meperidine

All of the group 1 and 2 agents are structurally very similar to each other and should not be given if a true allergy exists to any other natural or semi-synthetic derivative.  Group 3 agents have structures different enough that they can be given to a patient intolerant to the natural or semi-synthetics without fear of cross reactivity.  They are also very different from others in this same group.

The bottom line is that most of our patients don’t have true opioid allergies.  Just as an example, you will many times see a patient listed as having a percocet or morphine allergy and yet they tolerate hydromorphone without a problem. Go figure…

Category: Critical Care

Title: Seizures and the Critically Ill

Keywords: seizure, metabolic (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/11/2008 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Mike Winters, MD

Seizures in the Critically Ill

  • Seizures are a common complication in medical and surgical patients commonly arising from coexisting conditions associated with critical illness
  • Most seizures in the critically ill are generalized convulsions rather than focal
  • The majority of seizures occur in patients without a pre-existing history of seizure disorder
  • Common causes of seizures in the critically ill include sepsis, cardiovascular disease, metabolic abnormalities, medications, and drug intoxication/withdrawal
  • Metabolic abnormalities account for 30 -35% of causes
  • The most common metabolic abnormalities include hyponatremia, hypocalcemia, hypophosphatemia, uremia, and hypoglycemia
  • Be sure to check these labs in ICU patients with a seizure

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Category: Vascular

Title: Key Pitfall to Avoid in Severely Hypertensive Patients

Keywords: hypertension (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/10/2008 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
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Key Pitfall to Avoid in Severely Hypertensive Patients One of the biggest pitfalls committed when treating severely hypertensive patients (asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic) is in "stacking" antihypertensive (oral) medications. Mike Winters has mentioned this previously. This occurs when several medications are given one after another...resulting in a precipitous drop in blood pressure. This could result in severe hypotension and stroke. Pearls: 1. Don't stack too many BP meds in the ED (resist the urge to do this. 2. If the patient's BP is sky high (i.e. 250/170), forget oral meds and get control of the BP with a drip. This is a safer approach than adding many different medications and taking the risk of hypotension. 3. Don't just treat the number 4. Hypertensive patients can go home (with prompt followup)

Category: Cardiology

Title: low QRS voltage on the ECG

Keywords: low voltage, electrocardiography (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/9/2008 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
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Low QRS voltage (LV) on the ECG is generally defined as the presence of QRS amplitudes which are < 0.5 mV (5 mm) in all of the limb leads and < 1.0 mV (10 mm) in all of the precordial leads. This is a fairly tight definition and for practical purposes, the definition is sometimes expanded to include patients with the sum of QRS amplitudes in leads I, III, and III adding up to < 15 mm; OR the sum of the QRS amplitudes in leads V1, V2, and V3 adding up to < 30 mm. Causes of LV can be divided into two major groups: (1) deficiency of the heart's generated potentials, or "cardiac causes," and (2) attenuating influences outside the heart, or "extracardiac causes." Cardiac causes include: cardiomyopathies (which can sometimes be caused by multiple prior MIs), infiltrative cardiac diseases (e.g. amyloid), severe hypothermia, and inflammatory diseases of the heart due to chemicals or infections (incl. myocarditis). Extracardiac causes include: large pericardial or pleural effusions, obesity, COPD (esp. if a barrel chest is present), pneumothorax and other forms of barotrauma (esp. left-sided).

Category: Orthopedics

Title: Maisonneuve Fracture

Keywords: maisonneuve, tibia, fibula, fracture, ankle, orthopedic (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/2/2008 by Dan Lemkin, MD, MS (Emailed: 11/8/2008) (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Dan Lemkin, MD, MS

A maisonneuve fracture is a fracture dislocation resulting from external rotational forces to ankle -- through interosseous ligament to fibula.

  • Proximal fibula fracture - from external rotational forces (spiral/oblique)
  • Ankle components can include any of the following:
    • medial maleolus avulsion fx or deltoid ligament rupture
    • anterior talofibular ligament rupture
    • interosseous ligament rupture
    • posterior malleolar fracture

If stability is questionable, orthopedic evaluation under anesthesia is required. Additionally always consider compartment syndrome. Do not rely on Kanduval's signs (pain, paraesthesia, pallor, poikilothermia, pulselessness) - "... with the exception of pain and paraesthesia, these traditional signs are not reliable." Emergent orthopedic consultation and compartment pressure assessment should be performed. (see attached photos)


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Category: Toxicology

Title: Salvia Divinorum

Keywords: Drugs of abuse, salvia, sage (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/6/2008 by Ellen Lemkin, MD, PharmD (Emailed: 11/7/2008) (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Ellen Lemkin, MD, PharmD

This is a psychoactive herb which can induce strong dissociative effects by stimulation of the kappa receptor. It has become increasingly well known and available in modern culture, and popularized by YouTube Salvia (also known as Sage, Diviner's Sage, Magic Mint, or Sally D) is usually smoked, but can be chewed or ingested.

The high it produces is very intense, but lasts only approximately 10 minutes. Currently many states have enacted legislation against it, including Fla, IL, KA, MI, MO, ND, OK and VA, but it is available over the internet.


The following video demonstrates clinical effects of drug.
Although it is amusing, this is not meant to condone use.

(if you can not view the embeded video here is the link)

Category: Neurology

Title: Chiari Malformations

Keywords: chiari malformation, cerebellum, vertigo, congenital abnormalities (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/5/2008 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD

  • Chiari Malformations are congenital abnormalities wherein the cerebellum downwardly displaces into the spinal canal.
  • This results in an increase in pressure and subsequent obstruction of CSF flow.
  • Common symptoms associated with Chiari Malformations include:

              -  vertigo

              -  headache

              -  muscle weakness

              -  coordination abnormalities

              -  gait abnormalities

              -  visual abnormalities

Category: Vascular

Title: PERC Rules have been validated

Keywords: PERC Rules (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/4/2008 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Rob Rogers, MD

Pulmonary Embolism Rule Out Critieria (PERC) A brief reminder about the PERC rules... Use of the PERC (Pulmonary Embolism Rule-out Criteria) rule can significantly decrease work-up for pulmonary embolism. To apply this rule, the clinician must first use clinical gestalt to classify the patient as low risk. The PERC rule, which consists of eight clinical criteria including history, physical and vital signs, can then be used. If both of these criteria are met, then there is less than a 2 percent risk that this patient has a PE and no further work-up is needed. PERC Rule: Age < 50 years Pulse < 100 bpm SaO2 > 94% No unilateral leg swelling No hemoptysis No recent trauma or surgery No prior PE or DVT No hormone use This rule has now been validated in a large, multicenter trial. Bottom line: If you walk out of the room and your clinical gestalt is "no PE" and the PERC rule is negative, there is a <2% chance of pulmonary embolism (<2% probability, by the way, is what many PE experts consider the test threshold)

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Category: Critical Care

Title: Auto-PEEP

Keywords: auto-peep, mechanical ventilation (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/4/2008 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Mike Winters, MD

Auto-PEEP in the non-COPD patient

  • In previous pearls we have discussed the concept of auto-peep in patients with expiratory flow limitation (asthma and COPD)
  • Unexpected auto-peep can also occur in up to 35% of patients without asthma or COPD
  • In these patients, auto-PEEP typically occurs with high minute ventilations (> 20 L/min) with shortened exhalation times or if exhalation is blocked (blocked ETT, exhalation valve, or PEEP valve)
  • Recall that auto-PEEP increases the work of breathing, worsens gas exchange, and can cause hemodynamic compromise 
  • Treatment of auto-PEEP can be as follows:
    • Change ventilator settings
      • increase expiratory time
      • decrease respiratory rate
      • decrease tidal volume
    • Reduce ventilatory demand
      • reduce anxiety, pain, fever with sedatives
    • Reduce flow resistance
      • large-bore ETT
      • frequent suctioning
    • Apply external PEEP

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Category: Cardiology

Title: risk factors and CAD

Keywords: coronary heart disease, cardiac disease, risk factors (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/2/2008 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Amal Mattu, MD

The classic risk factors for coronary artery disease (e.g. hypertension, diabetes, smoking, etc.) are helpful at predicting the long-term risk of CAD, but they have limited utility at predicting whether a patient with acute symptoms is having an acute coronary syndrome or not. In one recent study of > 800 patients with suspected cardiac chest pain, 12% of patients with NO cardiac risk factors ruled-in for acute MI.

Never rule out ACS in a patient purely based on the absence of traditional cardiac risk factors!

[Body R, McDowell G, Carley S, et al. Do risk factors for chronic coronary heart disease help diagnose acute myocardial infarction in the Emergency Department? Resuscitation 2008;79:41-45.]

Category: Misc

Title: High Altitude Illnesses

Keywords: high altitude illness (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/1/2008 by Michael Bond, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Michael Bond, MD

High altitude illnesses is typically called Acute mountain sickness (AMS) and is associated with two major complications high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE).

Symptoms associated with AMS are headache, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, anorexia and insomia. Cough, Cyanosis, hypoxia, and dyspnea are associated with HAPE.  HACE is associated with progressive neurologic symptoms and can lead to ataxia and coma.

Factors that increase your risk for altitude illnesses are:

  • Rate of ascent
  • Elevation obtained
  • Exertion on arrival to elevation
  • Duration at that altitude
  • Recent URI
  • Previous symptoms of AMS

Category: Pediatrics

Title: Bacterial Conjunctivitis in Children

Keywords: bacterial conjunctivitis (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/31/2008 by Don Van Wie, DO (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Don Van Wie, DO

How do we know if we really need to put all those red eyes sent in from daycare centers and schools on antibiotics? The following study shows us why.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis in Children

  • Prospective study in a children’s hospital ED
  • Conjunctival swabs for culture were obtained from patients aged 1 mo - 18 yrs presenting with red or pink eye and/or the diagnosis of conjunctivitis
  • 111 patients enrolled over one year
  • Mean age of 33.2 mos, 55% male
  • 87 patients (78%) had positive bacterial cultures
    • Nontypeable H influenzae = 82%
    • S pneumoniae = 16%
    • Staphylococcus aureus = 2.2%
  • The combination of a history of gluey or sticky eyelids and the physical finding of mucoid or purulent discharge had a post-test probability of 96% that the infection was bacterial.(So when both these are present you definitely should treat)
  • And since the majority of these children (78%) had positive cultures even if they only had a pink eye it is reasonable to use empirical ophthalmic antibiotic therapy in children who present with the complaint of a pink eye.


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Category: Toxicology

Title: MDMA and SIADH

Keywords: siadh, mdma, ecstasy (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/30/2008 by Fermin Barrueto, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Fermin Barrueto, MD

Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) or "Ecstasy"

A designer club drug that has been classified as a "hallucinogenic" amphetamine though it does not cause visual hallucinations like are reported with LSD. It has many of the sympathomimetic effects like other amphetamines but its main mechanism of action which both causes the euphoria and toxicity is serotonin agonism. Since Anti-diuretic hormone is released by the hypothalamus under the direct regulation of serotonin, there is a transient but dangerous episode of Syndrome of Inappropriate ADH (SIADH). Combined with the club culture and fear of dehydration while taking MDMA, patients ingest MDMA concomitantly with free water through the night further exacerbating the hyponatremia. The time sequence of events for these patient is (women appear genetically predisposed to this phenomena):

  • Friday Night: Ingestion of MDMA (even one pill is enough) +/- free water
  • Saturday Morning: headache, nausea, vomiting
  • Saturday Afternoon: (Realizes its not a hangover) patient becomes confused progressing to unresponsive and eventually seizures
  • Saturday Evening: Presents to ED with seizures

Treatment: Fluid restriction - this is the one time that the 1L NS Bolus can kill a patient with cerebral edema. If you must give fluid give 3% NaCl if there is symptomatic hyponatremia. Remember the patient has dropped their sodium in about 24 hours so you can replenish in about the same time quite safely and even faster in severe cases. Treated correctly, patients improve rapidly - within 24-48 hours. Read a great case report in the reference below.

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Category: Neurology

Title: Abbreviated NIH Stroke Scale

Keywords: NIHSS, stroke scales, motor function, visual fields, language, gaze (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/29/2008 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD

  • It is crucial to be familiar with and use  the NIH Stroke Scale (NIHSS) to objectively describe the extent of a stroke, in a language universal to all physicians, particularly our neurology colleagues.
  • This validated tool consists of 15 items and the scale ranges from 0-42.  The higher the number, the worst the stroke.
  • The NIHSS does not have to be memorized, but rather accessible for reference when needed.
  • Studies have validated an abbreviated, 5-item NIHSS that has the same predictive performance as the 15-item scale.  This scale ranges from 0-16.
  • While this abbreviated scale was created primarily for use in the prehospital setting, it can certainly be performed in the ED prior to rushing the patient off the CT for a head scan, in order to provide your neurologist with some objective information in a timely fashion.
  • The NIHSS-5 assesses the following functions, in decreasing order of importance in terms of prognosis:

              --  motor function (right leg)

              --  motor function (left leg)

              --  gaze

              --  visual fields

              --  language

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Category: Critical Care

Title: Ventilator Therapy in ED Patients with ARDS

Keywords: PEEP, mechanical ventilation, ARDS (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/28/2008 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Mike Winters, MD

Ventilator Therapy for ED Patients with ARDS

  • As we manage critically ill patients for longer periods of time, it is likely that many of us will manage patients who develop ARDS
  • Current mortality for patients with ARDS ranges from 30-40%
  • ED treatment for patients with ARDS includes treating the inciting event, supportive critical care, and ventilator management
  • Current ventilator management in patients with ARDS includes:
    • avoiding alveolar overdistention (tidal volumes of 6 ml/kg)
    • maintaining FiO2 < 60% (mitigates oxygen toxicitty)
    • PEEP to prevent alveolar derecruitment (levels of 10-15 cm H2O)
    • permissive hypercapnea

Category: Vascular

Title: Reversal of Warfarin

Keywords: Warfarin (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/27/2008 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Rob Rogers, MD

Reversal of Warfarin

Reversal of Warfarin can be accomplished by administering any of the following:

  • Fresh Frozen Plasma (traditional reversal agent)
  • Vitamin K (po, sub q, or IV)
  • Prothrombin Complex Concentrates (PCC)-not yet available for use in the US (yet)

A few pearls:

  • It doesn't take many units of FFP to lower someone's INR
  • Don't forget volume considerations if you use FFP
  • Vit K is pretty well tolerated but some patients will have an allergic reaction (more common with IV administration)
  • These medications in general will be used for life-threatening bleeding (GI, CNS bleeds, retroperitoneal bleeds, etc)
  • Prothrombin Complex Concentrates-rich in factors 2,7,9, and 10...perfect drug since Warfarin depletes these factors
  • PCC associated with some increased thrombosis


Category: Cardiology

Title: syncope vs. seizures

Keywords: syncope, seizure (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/27/2008 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Amal Mattu, MD

Syncope patients are often misdiagnosed as having a seizure. Some factors favoring true syncope:
1. Preceding nausea or diaphoreses
2. Oriented (not confused) upon waking (no post-ictal period).
3. Age > 45
4. Prolonged sitting or standing before episode
5. History of CHF or CAD

Factors favoring seizures:
1. History of seizure disorder
2. Tongue biting
3. Confusion upon waking
4. Loss of consciousness > 5 min
5. Age < 45
6. Preceding aura
7. Observed unusual posturing, jerking, or head turning during episode

Category: Orthopedics

Title: Management of Felons (Infections that is)

Keywords: felon, management, incision (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/24/2008 by Michael Bond, MD (Emailed: 10/25/2008) (Updated: 4/24/2024)
Click here to contact Michael Bond, MD

Management of Felons

  • An abscess of distal finger that involves the pulp. 
  • A difficult infection to treat due to fibrous septa that divide the pulp into multiple small compartments. 
  • These septa run from the periosteum to the skin increasing the risk of osteomyelitis
  • Patients typically present with a lot of pain, redness, and swelling.
  • Typically triggered by a puncture wound (i.e.: splinter)
  • Incision and Drainage can result in a:
    • anesthetic finger tip
    • unstable finger pad
    • neuroma
  • If you are going to drain one it is recommended that you do a volar longitudinal incision down the middle of the finger pad or a high lateral incision. 
  • The high lateral incision should be at about 5 mm below the nail plate border. This distance should allow for avoiding the more volar neurovascular structures.

For good photos of the incision technique please visit the reference article listed.

Clark, DC. Common Acute Hand Infections. Am Fam Physician 2003;68:2167-76

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