UMEM Educational Pearls

There is actually very little data that actually supports the administration of activated charcoal (AC) to the poisoned patient.  AC works by binding the toxin and preventing its absorption from the GI tract. Here are some of the practical points:

  • Most effective if given within one hour of the overdose
  • Do not give if patient is sedated, going to be sedated or has a chance for seizure
  • Always assess risk of aspiration versus possibly binding drug by asking the following:
  1. Is this drug dangerous enough that I have to try to prevent its absorption?
  2. Can this drug cause sedation, seizures or impair protective airway reflexes?
  3. Do I lack an antidote or alternative treatment?

Once you have assessed your risk:benefit ratio, then administer AC. Of note, it definitely works in the right situation as noted in a landmark article that showed a decrease in mortality following poisoning by oleander - a plant that contains a digoxin like substance.(1)

1 - de Silva HA, et al. Multiple-dose activated charcoal for treatment of yellow oleander poisoning: a single-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet 2003: 361(9373):1935-8.

Category: Neurology

Title: Neuorproective Agents for Ishcemic Stroke

Keywords: neuroprotective agents, NXY-059, stroke, ischemic stroke, SAINT trial (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/27/2008 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD

  • Animal models have shown that neuroprotectants, including free radical trapping agents, decrease injury after ischemic stroke.
  • NXY-059 is a promising neuroprotective agent that was studied in the SAINT I and II trials.
  • SAINT I showed that NXY-059 used within 6 hours of ischemic stroke resulted in significant improvement in the primary outcome measure of reduced disability at 90 days.
  • SAINT II was done to confirm the results of SAINT I with a larger study population, but unfortunately did not show any significant difference in mortality between NXY-059 and placebo.  There was also no difference in adverse reactions, however.
  • More research is needed to determine the best neuroprotective agent to be used acutely for ischemic stroke.
  • The future of emergency treatment of ischemic stroke will likely include such agents, to be administered by emergency physicians.

Category: Vascular

Title: Treatment of Pulmonary Embolism

Keywords: Pulmonary Embolism (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/25/2008 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
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Treatment of Pulmonary Embolism

Treatment of acute PE:

  • Unfractionated Heparin (80 units/kg intravenous bolus followed by 18 units/kg/hour) or,
  • Fractionated (i.e. low molecular weight heparin) Heparin. For example, Enoxaparin, in a dose of 1 mg/kg subcutaneously every 12 hours. Some also give this dose IV every 12 hours.

If administering thrombolytic therapy (currently tPA is the only FDA approved drug) for massive PE, most authorities recommend UFH (Unfractionated Heparin) because the infusion needs to be turned off while the tPA hangs for 2 hours.

Although other agents are being promoted for the treatment of acute PE, like direct thrombin inhibitors, many institutions do not have these drugs available yet. Plus, they are expensive and have not been shown to be superior to standard therapy (at least yet)

References: Kline, Journal of Thrombosis and Hemostasis, 2005, 2006, 2007

Category: Critical Care

Title: Guidewire length

Keywords: central venous catheter, guidewire (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/25/2008 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
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Guidewire length for central venous catheterization

  • 18 cm should be considered the upper limit of guidewire insertion during internal jugular or subclavian central venous catheterization (16cm for right IJ)
  • There is the Peres Nomogram for determining guidewire length, which is based on patient height
  • However, height is less reliable in predicting safe guidewire length

Category: Orthopedics

Title: Sternoclavicular Dislocation

Keywords: Sternoclavicular, Dislocation, Posterior (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/24/2008 by Michael Bond, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
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Sternoclavicular Dislocation:

  • A rare cause of chest/shoulder pain following trauma, but one that can be associated with serious vascular injuries.
  • Anterior dislocations of the Sternoclavicular(SC) Joint are much more common  than posterior and  usually resulting from  blow to the anterior shoulder that rotates the shoulder backward and transmits the stress to the medial clavicle and SC joint.
  • A blow to the posteior shoulder that drives the shoulder forward or a direct blow to the medial clavicle can cause a posterior dislocation.
  • Anterior SC dislocations
    • Generally not associated with any underlying injury and can be safely reduced in the ED. 
    • Ligaments and joint capsule entrapment can make it difficult to reduce the joint, and often it is difficult to maintain the reduction. 
    • It is not uncommon for these to require open reducation and internal fixation.
    • Can be reducted by abducting, extending, and applying traction to the ipsilateral arm/shoulder while applying posterior and inferior pressure on the medial clavicle.
  • Posterior SC dislocations
    • Rare
    • Associated with injuries to the underlying vasculature,  dyspnea due to tracheal compression, and parasthesias.
    • Often missed on plain films (CXR, Shoulder Series or Clavicular Series)
    • Best visualized with enhanced CT Scan of the Chest.  IV enhancement recommended to ensure that their is no associated vascular injury.
    • Can be reducted by abducting, extending, and applying traction to the ipsilateral arm/shoulder while pulling the clavicle forward.  Several references recommend using a towel clip to grasp the clavicle if you are unable to grab it effectively with your fingers. 

Sorry this is being delivered to you late.


Category: Cardiology

Title: Cardiogenic Shock and Electrocardiography

Keywords: electrocardiography, EKG, cardiogenic shock, acute myocardial infarction (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/23/2008 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
Click here to contact Amal Mattu, MD

Here's a nice, simple pearl for cardiogenic shock:
"A normal ECG virtually rules out shock due to myocardial infarction."

Essentially, even though MI may be associated with a normal ECG in approximately 5-8% of cases, if a patient has cardiogenic shock due to MI, the ECG will ALWAYS be abnormal.

Gowda RM, Fox JT, Khan IA. Cardiogenic shock: basics and  clinical considerations. Int J Cardiol 2008;123:221-228.



Category: Pediatrics

Title: Diarrhea and the Petting Zoo

Posted: 3/21/2008 by Sean Fox, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
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Diarrhea and the Petting Zoo

Now that it is Spring Time, trips to the Zoo and to Pools will become more frequent… consider them as potential environmental exposure sites.

Petting Zoos, Farmers Markets and Fairs, and Swimming Pools (especially kiddie swimming pools) are known sources of enteropathogens that can cause diarrhea (sometimes bloody).

  • Salmonella (turtles, baby chicks)
  • E. Coli (newborn calves)
  • Cryptosporidium (farm animals and swimming pools – it is chlorine resistant)

Consider these on your DDx of vomiting/diarrhea.

Ask about these possible exposure sites along with Travel History and Nontraditional Pets.

Category: Toxicology

Title: Heparin Alert - China Does it Again

Keywords: heparin, chondroitin, toxicity (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/20/2008 by Fermin Barrueto, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
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Heparin FDA Alert

In case you had not heard, there was a major recall of Baxter's Heparin. It was responsible for dozens of deaths in the USA and an investigation was launched. It has been found that the contaminant comes from manufacturing plants in China. The most concerning part is that it looks like it was chemically synthesized sulfated chondroitin. This brings the suspicion of intentional adulteration. First lead in toys now cartilage in our heparin - what's next?

Some fascinomas of Heparin:

  • Overdose of heparin is treated with either time or protamine
  • Protamine can actually worsen anticoagulation if you give too much
  • Dose of Protamine: 1 mg of Protamine neutralizes 90 USP Units of Heparin but you must cut dose in half if 30 minutes have passed from heparin dose

News link for FDA Heparin Alert:

Category: Neurology

Title: Risk of Bleed with IV tPA

Keywords: tPA, stroke, intracerebral hemorrhage (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/19/2008 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
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  • The risk of symptomatic intracerebral hemorrhage after use of IV tPA for acute stroke is 6% (within 36 hours of administration).


The NINDS tPA Stroke Study Group.  "Intracerebral Hemorrhage after Administration of Intravenous tPA for Ischemic Stroke."  Stroke.  1997; 28:  2109-18.

Category: Critical Care

Title: "K-Phos"

Keywords: phosphate, hypotension, hypomagnesemia (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/18/2008 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
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Potassium Phosphate ("K-phos")

Over the weekend, I had a patient with Dr. Scott that had a phosphate of 0.8 mmol/L.  Phosphate < 1.0 mmol/L is an indication for IV repletion.  IV repletion involves giving potassium phosphate.  An important clinical question, therefore, is how much potassium does the patient actually get?

  • 1 mmol of IV phosphate delivers 1.46 mEq of potassium
  • Recommended infusion rate is 5 mmol/hr
  • Rapid infusion may lead to severe hypocalcemia, hypotension, acute renal failure, hypomagnesemia, and hypernatremia

Category: Cardiology

Title: cardiogenic shock and HCM

Keywords: cardiogenic shock, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/17/2008 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
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Cardiogenic shock associated with LV outflow obstruction is managed best without the use of vasoconstrictive agents and vasopressors. Ideally, patients should be treated with IVF and beta blockade. Alpha agonists (e.g. ISO) can also be added.

Typical vasopressors may actually worsen LV outflow obstruction in these patients.

Category: ENT

Title: Avulsed Tooth

Keywords: Avulsed Tooth, hanks solution, dental emergencies (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/16/2008 by Michael Bond, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
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Dental Emergency -- Avulsed Tooth

  • Never reimpant a primary tooth.  If replaced, primary teeth have a high likelihood of fusing to underlying alveolar bone, which causes dentoalveolar ankylosis and can result in facial deformities
  • Never wipe off a tooth, or hold it by the root. The periodontal ligament is easily wiped off and the tooth will not reimplant without it.
  • For maximal success, the tooth should be reimplanted within 60 minutes.
  • Avoid allowing the periodontal ligament from drying out.  Transport the tooth in (listed in order of preference):
    • Hanks Solution or EMT Tooth Saver
    • Milk
    • Saline
    • Saliva
  • Once the tooth is reimplanted it should be held in place with a wire splint or Coe-Pak that bridges the avulsed tooth to the ones on either side of it.
  • Place the patient on antibiotics (Penicillin or Clindamycin) in order to prevent any infections.
  • If the avulsed tooth can not be found a Chest X-ray should be obtained to ensure that the tooth was not aspirated.


Category: Pediatrics

Title: Vaginal Cultures for Sexual Abuse Evaluation

Keywords: Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Syphilis, Sexual Abuse, Trichomonas (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/14/2008 by Sean Fox, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
Click here to contact Sean Fox, MD

Sexual Abuse


  • The only positive vaginal culture that is DEFINITIVE confirmation of sexual abuse is Neisseria gonorrhea.
    • Vertically transmitted Chlamydia may persist for up to 3 years (does not confirm abuse in children <3yrs)
    • Syphilis may also be present due to vertical transmission (often presents as secondary syphilis)
    • Trichomonas can also be transmitted perinatally and may persist for 6-9 months. 
      • However, it has NOT been found in children >1 year without history of sexual contact.
  • Remember that CULTURES need to be sent for GC and Chlamydia.  DNA probes and nonculture methods are NOT recommended in this age group for evaluation of potential sexual abuse.

Category: Toxicology

Title: Sumatriptan

Keywords: sumatriptan, myocardial infarction, migraine (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/13/2008 by Fermin Barrueto, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
Click here to contact Fermin Barrueto, MD

  • A triptan that is a serotonin agonist
  • SQ administration better
  • High first pass effect and thus not effective often PO
  • Sulfhemoglobinemia see with high dose PO
  • Adverse Effects: MI and ischemia , CVA
  • Be wary with elderly, hx of CAD/CVA or hx of cocaine use

Category: Neurology

Title: Dix-Hallpike Maneuver

Keywords: benign paroxsymal positional vertigo, vertigo, bppv, dix hallpike maneuver, dizziness (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/12/2008 by Aisha Liferidge, MD (Updated: 1/9/2010)
Click here to contact Aisha Liferidge, MD

  • The Dix-Hallpike Maneuver is performed to help diagnose/rule out benign positional vertigo, a condition attributed to floating (canalithiasis) or fixed (cupulolithiasis) otoconial debris within the posterior semicircular canal of the ear.
  • To perform, turn the patient's head 45 degrees to one side and then rapidly but carefully recline them backwards to a supine position, preferably with the head hanging partially off the bed (i.e. at a position about 10-20 degrees inferior to that of the rest of the body).  Next, perform the maneuver by turning the patient's head 45 degrees to the other side.
  • If nystagmus is induced, the test is positive.  Note the following five characteristics of the nystagmus:  (1)  latency, (2)  direction, (3)  fatigue (i.e. extinguishes with repetitive maneuvers), (4)  habituation (i.e. duration), and (5)  reversal upon sitting upright.
  • Note that the Dix-Hallpike Maneuver described here is the diagnostic version, not the one performed therapeutically, the latter of which is also helpful. 

Category: Gastrointestional

Title: Suspected Variceal Bleed

Keywords: Variceal Bleed (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/11/2008 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
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 Medical Regimen for Suspected Variceal Bleed

To review what Dr. Bond and Dr. Winters have already posted:

Three medical therapies have been shown to be effective in patients with severe upper GI bleed thought to be due to esophageal varices:

  • Octreatide: 50-100 ug bolus followed by 50 ug/hour. Has been shown to lower the rebleeding rate substantially. Even if varices have not been confirmed by endoscopy, Octreatide has also been shown to be effective in ulcer bleeding as well.
  • Antibiotics (3rd generation Cephalosporin): Have been to lower the rebleeding rate in variceal bleeding. 
  • Intravenous Proton Pump Inhibitor: Remember that a liver patient is as likely to have a non-variceal source of bleeding (ulcer), so add a PPI drip. Raising the pH stabilizes clot. Without endoscopy, you don't know if they have an ulcer or another etiology.

Most of our gastroenterologists recommend this regimen (all three therapies)

Other things to consider:

  • Platelets, FFP
  • Intubate EARLY-most endoscopists will want the airway protected prior to the scope.
  • Don't be too aggressive with blood replacement/IVF: The gastroenterologist don't want these patients too resuscitated with blood products. Certainly don't aim for a Hct >30.

Category: Critical Care

Title: Coagulopathy and Trauma

Keywords: fresh frozen plasma, coagulopathy, PRBC (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/11/2008 by Mike Winters, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
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Coagulopathy and Trauma

  • When resuscitating a trauma patient recall that the "lethal triad" consists of acidosis, hypothermia, and coagulopathy
  • Coagulopathy is induced by the combination of direct loss of clotting factors, consumption in clot formation, dilutional due to crystalloid administration, acidosis, and hypothermia
  • When giving PRBCs in trauma resuscitation, don't forget to give FFP
  • The ratio to remember is 1U of FFP for every 2U PRBCs

Category: Cardiology

Title: Post-MI Cardiogenic Shock

Keywords: MI, Cardiogenic Sock (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/8/2008 by Michael Bond, MD (Emailed: 3/9/2008) (Updated: 3/5/2024)
Click here to contact Michael Bond, MD

Post-MI cardiogenic shock, while traditionally thought to carry a mortality > 80%, actually has perhaps half that mortality when patients are treated aggressively with prompt invasive therapy (PCI, possibly CABG). Fibrinolytics have traditionally been discouraged, but authors now indicate that they should be given if all of the following three conditions are present:

  1. PCI will take greater than 90 minutes,
  2. Less than 3 hours have elapsed since onset of STEMI
  3. No contraindications to lytics are present.

Sent on behalf of Dr. Amal Mattu

Show References

Category: ENT

Title: Trigeminal Neuralgia

Keywords: Trigeminal Neuralgia, Microvascular decompression, treatment (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/8/2008 by Michael Bond, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
Click here to contact Michael Bond, MD

 Trigeminal Neuralgia

  • A neuropathic disorder of the trigeminal nerve that causes episodes of intense pain.
  • Also known as Tic Douloureux
  • Many cases are associated with vascular compression and subsequent demyelination of the trigeminal nerve, though other causes include compression by a tumor, and multiple sclerosis.
  • Classic Trigeminal Neuralgia is a clinical diagnosis that has the following criteria:
    • Paroxysmal attacks of pain lasting from a fraction of a second to two minutes that affect one or more divisions of the trigeminal nerve
    • Pain has at least one of the following characteristics: intense, sharp, superficial, or stabbing precipitated from trigger areas or by trigger factors
    • Attacks are similar in individual patients
    • No neurological deficit is clinically evident
    • Not attributed to another disorder
  • Treatment options include:
    • Medical:
      • Carbamazepine (most common and drug of choice)
      • Gabapentin (lacks evidence in trigeminal neuralgia but widely used for other neuropathic pain)
      • Lamotrigine
      • Baclofen
    • Surgical:
      • Microvascular decompression: posterior fossa is explored and the culprit blood vessel is moved off the trigeminal nerve. Typically the nerve is padded with a teflon sheet in order to provide additional protection. 80-90% successful with little or no facial numbness.
      • Ablative: Attempts are made to just incapacitate the pain fibers but these techniques can result in facial numbness as other sensory fibers can be damaged.  Common methods include:
        • Glycerol or alcohol injection
        • Radiofrequency rhizotomies
        • Stereotactic radiation therapy
        • Complete severing of the nerve.

Show References

Category: Pediatrics

Title: Acute appendicitis

Keywords: Appendicitis, Delayed Surgical intervention, Perforation (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/7/2008 by Sean Fox, MD (Updated: 3/5/2024)
Click here to contact Sean Fox, MD

Acute Appendicitis – Delayed Surgery option?

  • Appendicitis incidence in children = 4/1000
  • The traditional emergent surgical intervention has recently been challenged.
  • Three RETROSPECTIVE studies investigated delayed/urgent vs emergent surgical interventions
    • 2 of the three found no significant difference in perforation or complication rates between the 2 groups.
    • 1 found that the emergent group had higher rates of perforation.
  • What you need to know:
    • surgeons may base their decisions on these studies, which do have limitations (being that their retrospective)
    • despite the time of day, you should still advocate for patients that are “sick” to go to the OR rather than get antibiotics to “cool off” first.

Show References