Episode 37 – Lacerations


The Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM)

We cover a trick of the trade from Dr. Brian Lin, posted on the Academic Life in Emergency Medicine (ALiEM site) on hemostasis in finger tip avulsions. Dr. Lin also has his own excellent FOAM site on all things laceration –

We also cover FOAM on dogma of wound care from Dr. Ken Milne’s The Skeptic’s Guide to Emergency Medicine, Episode #63

Core Content – Wounds and Laceration Care

Tintinalli (7e) Chapter 44, “Wound Preparation.” Rosen’s  (8e) Chapter 59, “Wound Management Principles.”

Laceration Care:

  • Use gloves, they don’t have to be sterile [1].
  • Anesthetize (lidocaine with epinephrine is just fine).
  • Irrigate copiously. It’s estimated that one needs ~60 mL/centimeter of wound or at least 200 mL.
    • You can irrigate with water or saline. Potable tap water is fine [2,3]
  • For a cornucopia of laceration techniques visit
  • No clear “golden period” for laceration repair [4-6]. Rosen’s and Tintinalli recommend using clinical judgment as a guide.

Risks for Infection:

  • Diabetes
  • Length of laceration (>5 cm)
  • Location of the wound
  • Degree of contamination [6]

Age of wound when approximated (i.e. “golden period”) has not been found to be an independent risk factor). Rosen’s sites use of epinephrine as a risk but only cites a paper by Barker et al from 1982 in which tetracaine/epinephrine/cocaine was applied to wounds inflicted by researchers that were inoculated by s. aureus.

Prophylactic antibiotics:

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Generously Donated Rosh Review Questions 

Question 1.  An 18-year-old woman presents with a laceration to her face from a dog bite that occurred 24 hours ago. The patient owns the dog. Examination reveals a 4 cm laceration to the left cheek with no signs of infection. 

Question 2A 30-year-old man presents with a 2 cm linear laceration through his right eyebrow that he sustained after hitting his head on the kitchen cabinet. You determine that the wound will require repair with sutures. 


  1. Mammal bites to any part of the body should be copiously irrigated and explored followed by an assessment for primary closure. In this patient, primary closure is recommended as the laceration is on the face. Canine bites often involve laceration as well as crush injury to tissue depending on the size of dog. The presence of a crush injury may make primary wound repair difficult. Additionally, devascularization of the tissue may make primary closure contraindicated as the risk of infection increases. Classically, it was taught that lacerations sustained from dog bites should be irrigated, given antibiotics and not primarily repaired because of these risks. However, more recent literature has shown that the risk of infection was no different for primary closure versus healing by secondary intention. Additionally, if the laceration is to a cosmetic area like the face, primary repair should be attempted. As with any laceration, tetanus status should be updated. Copious irrigation and wound exploration is central to good wound care. Exploration should pay particular attention to the presence of foreign bodies especially teeth, which may break off during the bite. Antibiotics (A & C) are not routinely needed for dog bites despite classic teaching. Antibiotics should be reserved for patients with signs of infection, multiple comorbidities or large wounds with gross contamination. If antibiotics are given, they should primarily cover Staphylococcus and Streptococcus species, as these are the predominant organisms in the canine oral cavity. Eikenella and Pasturella are less commonly responsible for infections. Irrigation and antibiotics alone (A) would be indicated for dog bites that are grossly infected or have large defects that cannot be primarily closed. Wound closure and antibiotics without irrigation (D) is also contraindicated as copious irrigation is central to proper wound management.
  2. A pair of clean, non-sterile gloves can be worn by the physician (and any assistants) during laceration repair. The use of sterile gloves has not been proven to be associated with lower infection rates and is not required. Wounds must be prepped prior to closure. This generally involves cleaning and draping the wound, providing local or regional anesthesia, copious irrigation and exploring the wound to evaluate the integrity underlying structures and identify any foreign bodies. The skin surrounding a wound should be cleansed with either 10% povidone-iodine (C) or chlorhexidine gluconate solution. In general, these commercially available antiseptics should not be used for wound irrigation, as they can be toxic to the tissues. Irrigation should then follow with copious amounts of tap water or saline (at least 250 mL). This is best achieved with a large volume syringe attached to an 18-gauge needle or another commercially available irrigation device that achieves adequate pressure for irrigation. Alternatively, patients can irrigate at the sink if the laceration is in area that allows for this. Shaving of hair been shown to increase the risk of infection and should generally be avoided. It is best to apply a small amount of petroleum- or water-based lubricant to the hair to keep it out of the wound. Alternatively, hair can be clipped with scissors when necessary. Eyebrows (B) in particular should not be shaved as they provide anatomic landmarks that aid in wound approximation and removal results in poor short- and long-term cosmetic effect. In general, non-complex facial wounds are closed with nonabsorbable suture material, such as nylon or polypropylene. Most commonly this will be done with 6-0 suture, as it provides the best cosmetic effect. The use of 3-0 (D) and 4-0 suture is reserved for repair of fascia or wounds that are under high stress, such as those that overly major joints or involve the scalp.


  1. Perelman VS, Francis GJ, Rutledge T, et al. Sterile versus nonsterile gloves for repair of uncomplicated lacerations in the emergency department: a randomized controlled trial. Annals of emergency medicine. 43(3):362-70. 2004
  2. Fernandez R, Griffiths R. Water for wound cleansing. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2:CD003861. 2012.
  3. Weiss EA, Oldham G, Lin M, Foster T, Quinn JV. Water is a safe and effective alternative to sterile normal saline for wound irrigation prior to suturing: a prospective, double-blind, randomised, controlled clinical trial. BMJ open. 3(1):. 2013.
  4. American College of Emergency Physicians: Clinical policy for the initial approach to patients presenting with penetrating extremity trauma. Annals of emergency medicine. 33(5):612-36. 1999. [pubmed] **A past policy, no current clinical policy
  5. Zehtabchi S, Tan A, Yadav K, Badawy A, Lucchesi M. The impact of wound age on the infection rate of simple lacerations repaired in the emergency department. Injury. 43(11):1793-8. 2012.
  6. Quinn JV, Polevoi SK, Kohn MA. Traumatic lacerations: what are the risks for infection and has the ‘golden period’ of laceration care disappeared? Emergency medicine journal : EMJ. 31(2):96-100. 2014.

Episode 36 – Rib and Sternal Fractures

(ITUNES OR Listen Here)

The Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM)

This week we cover a joint piece between the Ultrasound Podcast and SonoIn5 on diagnosis of rib and sternal fractures with ultrasound.

Technique:  Linear probe, in line with the long axis of the bone (vertical for sternum, horizontal-ish for ribs).

Diagnosis: Cortical disruption (step off). Excellent sensitivity for sternal fractures [1-3]

Sternal Fracture

Sternal Fracture

  • Caution with sternal fractures as the sternomanubrial joint can mimic fracture, but looks more “bumpy” (see below)

Core Content – Rib and Sternal Fractures

Tintinalli (7e) Chapters 258, 259; Rosen (8e) Chapter 45 

Rib Fractures


  • Chest x-ray initial test of choice – may miss 50% of fractures, unclear if this is clinically significant [6]
  • Ultrasound has found to have excellent sensitivity [7]
  • Rib films are NOT recommended [4-6].

Complications: Traumatic rib fractures may be associated with other traumatic injuries such as pneumothorax, hemothorax, or in the case of lower rib fractures, intra-abdominal injury. However, rib fractures themselves have been associated with mortality, most often as sequelae of pulmonary embarrassment including pneumonia, intubation, and death. Mortality in elderly patients with rib fractures is significantly higher than the younger counterparts at 22% and 10% respectively [8,9].

  • Mortality is between 3-13%
  • Risk stratification (see this post): Battle and colleagues developed a prognostic scoring system, not externally validated and unclear if it would change practice, that highlights common sense predictors of poorer outcomes:
    • Age (>65)
    • Higher number of rib fractures
    • Chronic lung disease
    • Hypoxia (<90%)
    • Pre-injury anticoagulant use [11]


  • Analgesia:
    • Often includes NSAIDS (ibuprofen), acetaminophen, and narcotics +/- gabapentin (ibuprofen and gabapentin depending on renal function)
    • Epidural analgesia – highly recommended in the EAST guidelines [14].
    • Paracostal analgesia (ex: ON-Q pump) – not sufficient evidence for EAST recommendation (2005) [14]
  • Pulmonary Hygiene (formerly pulmonary toilet):  involved incentive spirometry, coughing, mobilization (up, out of bed), and possibly chest physical therapy
  • ORIF, “rib fixation” or “rib plating,” is increasingly common in the US and studies have found improvements in ICU LOS and ventilator days [15]


  • Many rib fracture patients will need to be admitted to the hospital for pain control, observation, and pulmonary hygiene.
    • Some rib fracture patients may benefit from care at trauma centers.  Lee et al  wrote that 3+ rib fractures exists as an indication for transfer to a level 1 trauma center and many places ascribe to this, it depends on the hospital and physicians.
    • While patients in the ED may look good, patients may benefit from high intensity floors (ie stepdown units) and many patients get observed in ICUs, again, depending on local practice patterns. Some protocols risk stratify patients (i.e. to the ICU vs floor) by incentive spirometry.
  • Patients with adequate pain control who are low risk (younger, ❤ rib fractures, good effort on incentive spirometry) may be discharged from the ED with analgesia and education on importance of pulmonary hygiene

Sternal Fractures – more common with ubiquity of airbags and seatbelts.

Diagnosis:  Classically the “gold standard” has been lateral x-ray. However, CT technology has improved since those studies. Ample literature suggests that ultrasound has excellent sensitivity [1-3].

Complications: Historically, sternal fractures were associated with injuries of the great vessels, high mortality, and blunt cardiac injury (BCI) [16-18].  The most recent iteration of the EAST guidelines states, “the presence of a sternal fracture alone does not predict the presence of BCI and thus should not prompt monitoring in the setting of normal ECG result and troponin I level” (Level 2) [18].

Treatment: Analgesia. Most patients with isolated sternal fractures (no pneumothorax, hemothorax, BCI, or hemodynamic instability) that have adequate pain control can be discharged from the ED [1-2].

Blunt Cardiac Injury

A broad category including a range of injuries from clinically silent dysrhythmias to cardiac wall rupture or vasospasm. BCI often results from high impact injury and should be considered in patients with significant thoracic trauma including rib fractures, sternal fracture, pneumothorax, hemothorax, and pulmonary contusion.

Diagnosis: There is no gold standard test.  One can rule out BCI with a normal ECG and a single normal troponin I [18].

Management: If an ECG or troponin is abnormal, admit to telemetry for monitoring and echo.

Generously Donated Rosh Review Questions 

Question 1.  A 23-year-old man presents with chest pain after a motor vehicle collision. The patient’s chest struck the steering wheel. He has no other complaints or injuries. Chest X-ray is unremarkable. ECG shows sinus tachycardia with anterior ST depressions. A troponin is sent and is positive at 3.50 mg/dl. 

Question 2A 20-year-old man presents with left rib pain after falling while playing soccer and striking his chest. Vital signs are normal. On physical examination, the patient has tenderness to palpation over the 4th rib in the midaxillary line. 

Question 3.  A 32-year-old woman was the restrained driver involved in a head-on motor vehicle collision (MVC) 2 days prior to presentation. She is complaining of chest pain and bruising to her chest. Her blood pressure is 118/78 mm Hg, pulse is 88 beats/minute, respirations are 18 breaths/minute and oxygen saturation is 96% on room air. You note bony tenderness and ecchymosis to her sternum. You order a chest X-ray and diagnose a non-displaced sternal fracture. 


  1. This patient presents with a myocardial contusion and should have an echocardiogram performed to look for any cardiac damage. Myocardial contusion describes a nebulous condition. It can occur through several mechanisms including a direct blow to the chest and compressive force over a prolonged period of time. Histologically, the disorder has similar findings to those seen after acute myocardial infarction. The majority of contusions heal spontaneously but small pericardial effusions may develop. Delayed rupture after resorption of hematoma is feared but rare complication. Patients with myocardial contusion will present after trauma with external signs of trauma and typically have other concomitant thoracic lesions (pulmonary contusion, pneumothorax, hemothorax). Patients will typically have tachycardia (up to 70%). ECG may show dysrrhythmia or ST changes but may also be normal. Although it is not effective to admit all patients for workup for myocardial contusion and the disease has a very low rate of cardiac complications, in the presence of ECG changes and elevated biomarkers, observation and echocardiography are a reasonable approach. Echocardiogram can be used to diagnose pericardial effusion, thrombi formation and valvular disruption.Cardiac catheterization (A) is not necessary after a myocardial contusion as coronary artery obstruction is not part of the pathophsyiology. The patient should not be discharged home (B)without an echocardiogram. Pericardiocentesis (D) is only necessary in the presence of a large pericardial effusion or one causing cardiac tamponade.
  2. This patient presents with signs and symptoms consistent with a rib facture. A chest X-ray should be performed to rule out any other pathology including pneumothorax and pulmonary contusion. Rib fractures are a common injury after thoracic trauma and the incidence increases with increasing age. They may be associated with a number of potential complications including pulmonary contusions, hemothorax, penumothorax and post-traumatic pneumonia. Fractures are most common at the posterior angle, which represents the weakest area. The ribs most commonly fractured are the 4th – 9th ribs. The 9th – 11th ribs are mobile, which reduces the risk of fracture. However, fractures of these ribs are more likely to be associated with intraabdominal injuries. Rib fractures should be suspected based on history and clinical evaluation. Patients will present with chest pain and tenderness over the area. Imaging should be obtained to rule out the more serious associated complications of pneumothorax, hemothorax and pulmonary contusion. Chest X-ray is the appropriate modality for this but often will not demonstrate the presence of a single rib fracture when it is in fact present. This is particularly true of non-displaced fractures. Rib belts (B) are discouraged as they may decrease the depth of respiration and lead to atelectasis and pneumonia. CT scan of the chest (D) is not routinely required for management of a simple rib fracture. Analgesia and discharge home (A) is likley to occur once more serious pathology is ruled out with a chest X-ray. Patients with rib fractures should also receive an incentive spirometer to help reduce the complication of pneumonia.
  3. Isolated, non-displaced sternal fractures are associated with low overall mortality rates. Fractures and dislocations of the sternum are caused primarily by anterior blunt chest wall trauma during a head-on MVC. Isolated fractures of the sternum most commonly occur when the chest wall is thrust against a diagonal seatbelt strap during rapid deceleration in a frontal impact MVC. They are more common in older individuals and women. Most fractures are transverse and non-displaced and can be diagnosed on a lateral chest radiograph. Although a fracture of the sternum can be seen following major thoracic trauma, its presence alone does not indicate severe underlying thoracic injury. However, if other significant underlying thoracic injuries are suspected, a CT-scan of the thorax should be performed


  1. You JS, Chung YE, Kim D, Park S, Chung SP. Role of sonography in the emergency room to diagnose sternal fractures. Journal of clinical ultrasound : JCU. 38(3):135-7. 2010. [pubmed]
  2. Engin G, Yekeler E, Güloğlu R, Acunaş B, Acunaş G. US versus conventional radiography in the diagnosis of sternal fractures. Acta radiologica (Stockholm, Sweden : 1987). 41(3):296-9. 2000. [pubmed]
  3. Jin W, Yang DM, Kim HC, Ryu KN. Diagnostic values of sonography for assessment of sternal fractures compared with conventional radiography and bone scans. J Ultrasound Med. 2006 Oct. 25(10):1263-8; quiz 1269-70.
  4. ”Pulmonary Trauma” Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide.  7th ed. Ch 258.
  5.  “Thoracic Trauma” Rosen’s Emergency Medicine. 8th ed. Chapter 45.
  6. Henry TS, Kirsch J. ACR Appropriateness Criteria® rib fractures. Journal of thoracic imaging. 29(6):364-6. 2014. [pubmed]
  7. Chan SS. Emergency bedside ultrasound for the diagnosis of rib fractures. The American journal of emergency medicine. 27(5):617-20. 2009. [pubmed]
  8.  Ziegler DW, Agarwal NN. The morbidity and mortality of rib fractures. J. Trauma. 1994;37(6):975–9.
  9. Bulger EM, Arneson M a, Mock CN, Jurkovich GJ. Rib fractures in the elderly. J. Trauma. 2000;48(6):1040–6
  10. Flagel BT, Luchette F a, Reed RL, et al. Half-a-dozen ribs: the breakpoint for mortality. Surgery. 2005;138(4):717–23; discussion 723–5.
  11. Battle CE, Hutchings H, Evans P. Risk factors that predict mortality in patients with blunt chest wall trauma: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Injury. 2012;43(1):8–17.
  12. Livingston DH, Shogan B, John P, Lavery RF. CT diagnosis of Rib fractures and the prediction of acute respiratory failure. The Journal of trauma. 64(4):905-11. 2008. [pubmed]
  13. Battle CE, Hutchings H, Lovett S.  Predicting outcomes after blunt chest wall trauma: development and external validation of a new prognostic model Critical Care 2014, 18:R98
  14. Pain Management in Blunt Thoracic Trauma (BTT)J Trauma. 59(5):1256-1267, November 2005.
  15. Doben AR, Eriksson EA, Denlinger CE. Surgical rib fixation for flail chest deformity improves liberation from mechanical ventilation. Journal of critical care. 29(1):139-43. 2014. [pubmed]
  16. Screening for Blunt Cardiac Injury. J Trauma. 73(5):S301-S306, November 2012
  17. Karangelis D, Koufakis T, Spiliopoulos K, Tsilimingas N, Bouliaris K, Desimonas N. Management of isolated sternal fractures using a practical algorithm. J Emerg Trauma Shock. 7(3):170-. 2014. [article]
  18. Dua A, McMaster J, Desai PJ et al. The Association between Blunt Cardiac Injury and Isolated Sternal Fracture. Cardiology Research and Practice. 2014:1-3. 2014. [article]

Episode 27 – Burns

(ITUNES OR Listen Here)

The Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM)

Burns are incredibly noticeable but the accompanying inhalational injury gets less attention. The amazing Maryland Critical Care Project features a neat review, N-acetylcysteine for Inhalational Burn Injury

  • Occurs in ~20% of all burn patients
  • Mortality is 30%
  • Major mechanisms of injury:
    • Temperature – often causing burns down to the level of the vocal cords, but not below.
    • Toxins – products of combustion such as cyanide, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulfide are asphyxiants and impair oxygen utilization
    • Irritants – inhaled particulates irritate airways
  • Airway edema peaks at 24-48 hours
  • Diagnosis made on bronchoscopy

 Nebulized heparin, N-acetylcysteine, and albuterol protocol

May be beneficial, but protocols based on small studies.  Rosen gives a head nod to this regimen, yet the evidence is questionable [1-3].

Nebulized heparin can be used at 10,000 international units every 4 hours, followed by nebulized NAC & albuterol 2 hours later for a total of 7 days.

  • Nebulized heparin may help prevent formation of airways casts.
  • NAC may have a mucolytic effect and help scavenge free radicals.
  • Albuterol added to prevent bronchospasm
  • Alternating nebulized heparin and NAC may:
    • Improve P/F ratio (not a patient centered outcome)
    • Decrease ventilator days
    • Reduce the development of acute lung injury

The Bread and Butter

We cover burns including nomenclature, fluid resuscitation, burn center referral criteria, and more.  We do this based on Rosen’s and Tintinalli. But, don’t just take our word for it.  Go enrich your fundamental understanding yourself.

Burn Depth

Classically, burns were described in degrees but are now described by the degree of thickness (except, apparently, fourth degree burns).  At FOAMcast, we like to remember these distinctions by thinking about the Egyptian flag, with the flag pole representing fourth degree burn or burns essentially down to the bone.

Burn Degree

Burn Degree

Fluid Resuscitation

The Parkland Formula is probably one of the most well known but both this formula and the modified Brooke formula have led to fluid “creep” or over-resuscitation, which may have lasting consequences. Major guidelines and Rosenalli approve another method, the “Rule of Tens.”

Rule of Tens 

  • Estimate burn size (TBSA) to the nearest 10%.
  • Multiply %TBSA x 10 = Initial fluid rate in mL/hr (for adult patients weighing 40 kg to 80 kg).
  • For every 10 kg above 80 kg add 100 mL/hr to the rate
  • Limitation: Overestimates fluids 100 [Alvarado]

Consider Referral to Burn Center 

Bad Burn

  • Partial thickness burns > 10% TBSA
  • Full thickness burns
  • Electrical burns or chemical burns
  • Inhalation injury

Bad Place –  Burns in the sensitive places such as face or genitals or important areas such as hands or major joints .

Bad Protoplasm – Preexisting medical disorders that could complicate management or prolong recovery (such as immunocompromised HIV patients).

Generously Donated Rosh Review Questions 

Question 1. 

Question 2. A 52-year-old woman is brought to the emergency department with burns from a house fire. Physical exam reveals superficial burns over her entire left arm and partial-thickness and full-thickness burns covering her entire right arm, her anterior right leg and anterior trunk.  


1. C. Burn classification is based on burn depth. Second-degree burns are classified into superficial and deep partial-thickness burns. Deep partial-thickness burns extend into thereticular dermis. Skin color is usually a mixture of red and blanched white, and capillary refill is slow. Blisters are thick-walled and commonly ruptured and the skin may appear leathery white. Two-point discrimination may be diminished, but pressure and pinprick applied to the burned skin can be felt. Whereas superficial partial-thickness burns usually re-epithelialize 7-10 days after injury; so the risk of hypertrophic scarring is very small. For deep partial-thickness burns, tissue may undergo spontaneous epithelialization from the few viable epithelial appendages at this deepest layer of dermis and heal within 3-6 weeks. Because these burns have less capacity for re-epithelializing, a greater potential for hypertrophic scar formation exists. In deep partial-thickness burns, treatment with topical antimicrobial dressings is necessary to prevent infection as the burn wound heals. Contraction across joints, with resulting limitation in range of motion, is a common sequela. Splash scalds often cause second-degree burns.

2. B.  The extent of burn size in this patient is 36% total body surface area. A thorough and accurate estimation of burn size is essential to guide therapy and to determine when to transfer a patient to a burn center. The extent of burns is expressed as the total percentage of body surface area. Superficial burns are not included in the burn assessment. For adult assessment, the most expeditious method to estimate total percentage of body surface area is the Rule of Nines. This method only takes into account partial-thickness and full-thickness burns. Each leg represents 18% total percentage of body surface area; each arm represents 9% total percentage of body surface area; the anterior and posterior trunk each represent 18% total percentage of body surface area; and the head represents 9% total percentage of body surface area. This patient has partial-thickness and full-thickness burns covering her entire right arm, her anterior right leg and anterior trunk, which calculates to 36%. The superficial burn on her left arm is not included in the calculation. According to the Rule of Nines, the percentage in this patient can be calculated as follows: entire right arm = 9%; anterior right leg = 9%; anterior trunk 18%. 9+9+18= 36%.


1. Mlcak RP, Suman OE, Herndon DN. Respiratory management of inhalation injury. Burns. 2007;33:(1)2-13. [pubmed]

2. Kashefi NS, Nathan JI, Dissanaike S. Does a Nebulized Heparin/N-acetylcysteine Protocol Improve Outcomes in Adult Smoke Inhalation? Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. 2014;2:(6)e165. [pubmed]

3. Elsharnouby NM, Eid HE, Abou Elezz NF, Aboelatta YA. Heparin/N-acetylcysteine: an adjuvant in the management of burn inhalation injury: a study of different doses. J Crit Care. 2014;29:(1)182.e1-4. [pubmed]

Episode 26 – The Spinal Cord

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The Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM)

In January 2015, ACEP recommended against the use of long backboards by EMS, “Backboards should not be used as a therapeutic intervention or as a precautionary measure either inside or outside the hospital or for inter-facility transfers.”

We review the use of longboards and cervical collars for spinal immobilization using posts by Thomas D of ScanCrit (Curse of the Cervical Collar, Cervical Collar RIP,  Cervical Collars Slashed From Guidelines), a post by Dr. Minh Le Cong from PHARM, and this Medest118 post.

The bottom line:

  • The benefits of devices to aid in spinal immobilization such as cervical collars and long backboards are controversial.  Guidelines and protocols are continuing to recommend judicious use of these devices.  Examples include:
    • Clearing collars in obtunded blunt trauma patients with negative high quality CT [EAST]
    • Selective application of cervical collars [ILCOR]
    • No backboards and selective pre-hospital immobilizaiton [ACEP]

The Bread and Butter

We differentiate between spinal shock and neurogenic shock, cover the incomplete cord syndromes (anterior cord, central cord, Brown-Sequard Syndrome), and fly through some of the cover using Tintinalli (7e) Chapter 255; Rosen’s (8e) Chapter 43, 106  But, don’t just take our word for it.  Go enrich your fundamental understanding yourself.

Spinal shock – Reduced reflexes following think of this as a stunning of the spinal cord.

Neurogenic shock –  This is loss of sympathetic innervation from injury to the cervical or thoracic spine, typically from a cervical or upper thoracic spinal cord injury, resulting in bradycardia and hypotension.

  • Warm, peripherally vasodilated , and hypotensive  from loss of sympathetic arterial tone with a relative bradycardia from unopposed parasympathetic (vagal) tone
  • Typically presents within 30 minutes, can last 6 weeks
  • Diagnose only after excluding other sources of shock
  • Treatment: crystalloid, vasopressors

Incomplete Cord Syndromes

 Better prognosis than complete cord syndromes. Means there is some sensory or motor preserved distal to lesion (i.e. rectal tone or perineal sensation)

Anterior Cord Syndrome 

  • Complete loss of motor, pain, and temperature below but retain posterior columns (position and vibration)
  • Flexion injury or decreased perfusion (aortic surgery or injury)
  • Paralysis and hypalgesia below the level of injury with preservation of posterior column (position and vibration)

Central Cord Syndrome

  • Sensory and motor deficit, often associated with hyperextension injuries (think whiplash)
  • Affects arms>legs
  • Think MUDE (pronounced muddy): Motor, Upper, Distal, Extension (injury)

Brown-Sequard Syndrome

  • Classically associated with a stab wound
  • Loss of motor function and position and vibration on ipsilateral side with contralateral loss of pain and temperature (fibers cross)

 Reflex Review

C4 Spontaneous breathing: “3-4-5 keep the diaphragm alive”
C5 Shoulder shrug
C6 Flexion at elbow:  think flexing your elbow up to drink before…
C7 Extension at elbow: …extending it to set a drink down.
C8-T1 Flexion of fingers
T1-T12 Intercostal and abdominal muscles
L1-L2 Flexion at hip
L3 Adduction at hip
L4 Abduction at hip
L5 Dorsiflexion of foot
S1-S2 Plantar flexion of foot
S2-S4 Rectal sphincter tone: “2-3-4 keeps your junk off the floor”

Generously Donated Rosh Review Questions 

Question 1. A patient arrives to the ED 15 minutes after being involved in a MVC. He is conscious, and there is no obvious trauma. He is immobilized on a long spine board with a cervical collar in place. His BP is 60/40 mm Hg and HR is 60 bpm. His skin is warm.

Question 2. 


1.  A. Loss of deep tendon reflexes is expected. Neurogenic shock occurs after an injury to the spinal cord. Sympathetic outflow is disrupted resulting in unopposed vagal tone. The major clinical signs are hypotension and bradycardia. Patients are generally hypotensive with warm, dry skin because the loss of sympathetic tone impairs the ability to redirect blood flow from the periphery to the core circulation. The most commonly affected area is the cervical region, followed by the thoracolumbar junction, the thoracic region, and the lumbar region. The anatomic level of the injury to the spinal cord impacts the likelihood and severity of neurogenic shock. Injuries above the T1 level have the capability of disrupting the spinal cord tracts that control the entire sympathetic system leading to the loss of deep tendon reflexes.Neurogenic shock must be differentiated from “spinal” shock, which refers to neuropraxia (B) associated with incomplete spinal cord injuries. This state is transient (C) and resolves in 1 to 3 weeks. Alpha-1 vasopressors (e.g., phenylephrine), in addition to dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine (D), should be used to maintain blood pressure and ensure organ perfusion.

2. C.  In the anterior spinal cord syndrome, just the posterior columns are preserved and so patients lose all pain and temperature sensation as well as motor function. Most cases of anterior cord syndrome follow aortic surgery, but it has also been reported in the setting of hypotension, infection, vasospasm, or anterior spinal artery ischemia or infarct. In trauma, typically hyperflexion of the cervical spine causes the injury to the spinal cord.

Loss of all motor and sensory function (B) occurs with a complete transection of the spinal cord. Most commonly this occurs after a significant trauma. Isolated motor function loss (A) is not a classic syndrome and would result from a small area of injury on the cord just involving the corticospinal tract. Upper greater than lower motor weakness occurs (D) with a central cord syndrome. Sensory involvement is variable although burning dysesthesias in the upper extremities may occur. Most commonly the syndrome occurs after a fall or motor vehicle accident.

Episode 18 – Falls and Geriatrics


The Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM)

We review Dr. Ken Milne’s podcast, The Skeptic’s Guide to Emergency Medicine Episode #89,  special episode on falls in the geriatric.  This episode is the first in the HOP (Hot Off the Press) series in which Dr. Milne has paired with Academic Emergency Medicine and the Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine to review a paper, with the author, the same week the paper is published.

Why HOP is special:

  • Reducing the knowledge gap by disseminating hot-off- the press
  • Concurrent peer review from global audience.  Peer review is a flawed process and in this way, Dr. Milne takes his skeptical perspective to the paper and the author.
  • Key comments from social media will then be published in these journals, reaching the traditional academic readership.

Pearls from the Carpenter et al systematic review

Fall Statistics:

  • Fall Rates – > 65 y/o – 1 in 3 people fall per year; > 80 years old – 1 in 2 people fall per year
  • Elderly patients who fall and are admitted have a 1 year mortality of ~33% [1,3]. So, geriatric falls are bad, it seems logical to wish to predict who is going to fall.

Predictors of Falls:

  • The best negative likelihood ratio (-LR) was if the patient could cut their own toenails –LR 0.57 (95% CI 0.38-0.86) (remember, the target for a -LR is 0.1). This outperformed traditional assessments like the “get up and go test.”
  • Previous history of falls is a big predictor of falls.  Of elderly patients who present to the ED with a fall, the incidence of another fall by 6 months later is 31%.  Of those patients who present with a fall as a secondary problem,14% had another fall within 6 months.
  • The Carpenter instrument has a promising -LR of 0.11 (95% CI = 0.06-0.20) but has not been validated
    • Carpenter instrument: Nonhealing foot sores, self-reported depression, not clipping one’s own toenails, and previous falls

The Bread and Butter

We summarize some key topics from the following readings, Tintinalli (6e) Chapter 307 (This chapter was removed from the seventh edition) ; Rosen’s 8(e) Chapter 182 – but, the point isn’t to just take our word for it.  Go enrich your fundamental understanding yourself!

Abdominal Pain Abdominal pain in the elderly is much higher risk than the younger cohort. This is complicated by vague presentations.  Abdominal pain in the elderly often causes one to raise an eyebrow and ponder chest pathology such as an atypical presentation of ACS.  However, the converse can also be true.  Chest discomfort may really reflect intra-abdominal pathology.  Bottom line – presentations are vague and badness is common.

Geriatric abdominal pain stats:

  • Fever and WBC unreliable.  Per Rosen’s “Elders with potentially catastrophic intra-abdominal processes may not present with a fever or an elevated white blood cell count.”
  • Much higher risk than younger patients – 2/3 patients admitted and 1/5 go directly to the operating room.
  • Most common serious pathologies:  Biliary pathology (cholecystitis), small bowel obstruction, appendicitis.
  • Vascular pathologies such as abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) and mesenteric ischemia also have an important place in the differential given increased incidence in the elderly.

FOAM resources:

Polypharmacy  Elderly patients are often on a host of medications but have physiologic alterations that make them susceptible to increased adverse events.

  • 12-30% of admitted elderly patients have adverse drug reactions or interactions as a primary or major contributing factor to their admission and 25% of these drug reactions or interactions are serious or life-threaten
  • Garfinkel et al demonstrated that reducing medications in elderly nursing home patients may actually be better for their health.
  • Some of the highest risk medications, in general, for our elderly patients: diuretics, nonopioid analgesics, hypoglycemics, and anticoagulants.  A patient’s presentation (syncope, fall) may be a manifestation of a medication side effect.
  • There are many high risk pharmaceuticals in the ED, but be very cautious of: narcotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents, sedative-hypnotics, muscle relaxants, and antihistamines.
    • NSAIDS – patients may have reduced renal function and due to loss of lean muscle mass, creatine may not be accurate and NSAIDs may tip the patient into renal insufficiency. These drugs may also worsen hypertension and congestive heart failure as a result of salt retention.  NSAIDs are also associated with gastrointestinal bleeding.  Be cautious – acetaminophen is the safer bet.
    • Narcotics – may predispose patients to falls (which are bad in the elderly).  These drugs may also constipate patients, which can cause abdominal pain.  Give guidance and make sure the patient has a solid bowel regimen.
  • Start low and go slow.  It’s much easier to add doses of medications than clearing excess medications.
  • Cautiously start new medications. Furthermore, as drugs may be responsible for the patient’s symptoms that brought them to the ED, review the medication list. If possible, consider discussing discontinuation of medications with the patient’s PCP.

FOAM resources:

Delirium – Delirium in the elderly ED patients is associated with a 12-month mortality rate of 10% to 26% [5].  Be wary of chalking up alterations in mental status to dementia or sundowning.


Generously Donated Rosh Review Questions (Scroll for Answers)

Question 1.

Question 1. An 87-year-old woman presents to the ED after her caregiver witnessed the patient having difficulty swallowing over the past 2 days. The patient is having difficulty with both solids and liquids. She requires multiple swallowing attempts and occasionally has a mild choking episode. She has no other complaints. Your exam is unremarkable. 

Bonus Question: What proportion of elderly patients with proven bacterial infections lack a fever?


1.Carpenter CR, Avidan MS, Wildes T, et al. Predicting Geriatric Falls Following an Episode of Emergency Department Care: A Systematic Review. Acad Emerg Med. 2014 Oct;21(10):1069-1082.

2. “The Elder Patient.” Chapter 182.  Rosen’s Emergency Medicine, 8e.

3.  “The Elderly Patient.” Chapter 307.  Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Review, 6e.

4. Garfinkel D1, Zur-Gil S, Ben-Israel J. The war against polypharmacy: a new cost-effective geriatric-palliative approach for improving drug therapy in disabled elderly people.  Isr Med Assoc J. 2007 Jun;9(6):430-4.

5. Gower LE, Gatewood MO, Kang CS. Emergency Department Management of Delirium in the Elderly. West J Emerg Med. May 2012; 13(2): 194–201.


1.D.  Physiologic changes of aging affect virtually every organ system and have many effects on the health and functional status of the elderly. Compared to healthy adults, elderly patients have a decreased thirst response that puts them atincreased risk for dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities. Cell-mediated immunity (A) is decreased, which increases susceptibility to neoplasms and a tendency to reactivate latent diseases. Peripheral vascular resistance (B) is increased contributing to development of hypertension. Sweat glands (C) are decreased in the elderly, which puts them at risk for hyperthermia.

2.B.  Dysphagia can be divided into two categories: transfer and transport. Transfer dysphagia occurs early in swallowing and is often described by the patient as difficulty with initiation of swallowing. Transport dysphagia occurs due to impaired movement of the bolus down the esophagus and through the lower sphincter. This patient is experiencing a transfer dysphagia. This condition is most commonly due to neuromuscular disorders that result in misdirection of the food bolus and requires repeated swallowing attempts. A cerebrovascular accident (stroke) that causes muscleweakness of the oropharyngeal muscles is frequently the underlying cause.
Achalasia (A) is the most common motility disorder producing dysphagia. It is typically seen in patients between 20 and 40 years of age and is associated with esophageal spasm, chest pain, and odynophagia. Esophageal neoplasm (C)usually leads to dysphagia over a period of months and progresses from symptoms with solids to liquids. It is also associated with weight loss and bleeding. Foreign bodies (D) such as a food bolus can lead to dysphagia, but patients are typically unable to tolerate secretions and are often observed drooling. These patients do not have difficulty in initiating swallowing.

Bonus. Up to one half.

Episode 17 – The Spleen!


The Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAM)

We review Dr. Scott Weingart’s episode 133 on pre-hospital REBOA (resuscitative endovascular balloon occlusion of the aorta). Weingart interviews Dr. Gareth Davies about the encounter, underscoring the increasing use of REBOA.

For a quick REBOA refresher, check out Episode 121.

REBOA (Review of REBOA) – First described in 1954 in the Korean War, this is a form of hemorrhage control below the level of the chest without having to do a thoracotomy with aortic cross clamping, which has sparse mortality benefit and can be dangerous to providers.  Most of the REBOA literature is from swine models and case-series, although there are currently larger trials underway.

  • Outline of procedure – Obtain arterial access through the common femoral artery, pass a vascular sheath, float a balloon catheter to the appropriate section of the aorta, and inflate the balloon to occlude blood flow. The aorta is divided into three zones so that balloon occlusion is performed in Zone 1 for abdominal injuries or Zone 3 for pelvic injuries, while Zone 2 is a proposed no-occlusion zone.

The Bread and Butter

Rosen’s Chapter 46, 134 and Tintinalli Chapter 260.

What DOES the spleen do?

Answer: More than most appreciate. The spleen filters the blood, removing abnormal or old red blood cells (RBCs), debris, and antibody coated bacteria from the bloodstream.  It also serves as a reservoir for RBCs and platelets and synthesizes antibodies, opsonins, etc.

Splenic Trauma – EAST Guidelines (their podcast)

Diagnosis – suspect spleen trauma clinically, with hypotension, left upper quadrant abdominal pain, or even minimal trauma, especially after infectious mononucleosis.

  • CT with IV contrast (hemodynamically stable patients).  While FAST and DPL can detect peritoneal free fluid, they can’t detect subcapsular bleeds.
  • Unstable patients – operating room versus interventional radiology

Grading – 1 is 1 (<1 cm laceration depth), 3 is 3 (>3 cm laceration depth). Everything else is somewhere in between.   Higher grades typically result in more aggressive interventions. Historically these get operative intervention

  • Grade 1: < 1 cm laceration depth or<10% subcapsular hematoma
  • Grade 2: 1-3 cm laceration or 10-50% subcapsular
  • Grade 3: > 3 cm laceration depth or >50% subcapsular hematoma
    • Grade 3 or higher should be considered for angiography with embolization (Level II, III – EAST)
  • Grade 4: partially devascularized spleen or contrast blush
  • Grade 5:  a very battered, devascularized spleen

There’s slightly more to spleen grading, check out this post from Dr. McGonigal

Trivia:  The punctate extravasation sometimes seen on angiogram after blunt trauma?

Answer: The Seurat Spleen (pubmed), named after the pointillist painter.

Treatment –

  • Unstable patients: Operating room or Angiographic Intervention (IR) (Level II – EAST)
    • Note: Board exam? Send the patient to the OR.  In reality, there is some practice variation. Many would still argue the patient belongs in the OR, some places have combined OR/IR suites, and some opt for IR.
    • Post splenectomy patients will need immunizations for the encapsulated bacteria
  • Stable patients: Nonoperative management, which often comprises in-hospital monitoring, serial abdominal exams and hematocrits, etc is becoming increasingly common as first line for higher grade splenic injuries.  The key here is that the team must be able to take the patient to the OR or IR should the situation change.  Angioembolization has also gained momentum as management

Post-Splenectomy Sepsis (Review)– Most common in the first years after splenectomy and in children.

Presentation – Patients may present with a vague flu-like illness or gastroenteritis but may go on to develop septic shock, DIC, and multiorgan dysfunction. In addition, meningitis without overwhelming infection or shock is a common presentation of pneumococcal infection in asplenic patients.

Etiology – encapsulated bacteria (Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenza, and Neisseria meningitidis), capnocytophaga canimorsus (dog bites), and parasites such as babesiosis (endemic in New England), malaria, and ehrlichiosis.

Management – Labs, blood cultures, antibiotics (typically ceftriaxone)

Splenic Sequestration – Second most common cause of death in kids with Sickle Cell Disease <5 years of age.

Classic presentation – LLL: LUQ, lethargy, lightness (pallor).

Labs: 3 point drop in hemoglobin, increased reticulocyte count, and thrombocytopenia.

Generously Donated Rosh Review Questions (Scroll for Answers)

Question 1.  

Question 2.  A 23-year-old man presents with a stab wound to the abdomen. His vital signs are HR 132, BP 88/45. He has a positive FAST.



Chapter 46, 134. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine, 8e.

Chapter 260. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 7e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2011



1.  C.  Splenic artery aneurysms are the most common type of visceral arterial aneurysms, accounting for up to 60% of cases. Etiologies include arterial fibrodysplasia, portal hypertension, and increased splenic AV shunting in pregnancy. Clinical presentation is vague with left upper quadrant pain with radiation to the left shoulder or subscapular area. Most of the aneurysms are <2 cm in diameter; only 2% result in life-threatening rupture. Treatment is surgical resection if the patient is symptomatic. Otherwise, asymptomatic patients can undergo transcatheter embolization. Of those aneurysms that rupture, up to 95% occur in young pregnant women.

Hepatic artery aneurysms (A) represents 20% of visceral artery aneurysms and are caused by atherosclerosis, infection, and abdominal trauma. Clinical presentation can mimic cholecystitis. Inferior mesenteric artery aneurysms(B) are uncommon. Superior mesenteric artery aneurysms (D) are the 3rd-most common visceral aneurysms. IV drug abusers are at increased risk.

2. D. This patient presents with hemorrhagic shock from a penetrating abdominal trauma and should be immediately transferred to the operating room for an exploratory laparotomy. Stab wounds are the most common form of penetrating trauma. About 70% of anterior stab wounds penetrate the peritoneum. It is difficult to predict the specific organ injured based on the external location of the wound. Initial management should focus on securing the airway, assessing and supporting the patients breathing and circulation. IV access and supplemental oxygen should be provided. In hypotensive trauma patients, early blood transfusion should be initiated and consideration should be made for massive transfusion protocol. Concomitant with the primary and secondary survey, a Focused Assessment with Sonography for Trauma (FAST) exam should be performed. The speed and accuracy of the FAST has almost completely replaced the need for diagnostic peritoneal lavage. In a FAST exam, images are obtained of the splenorenal space, hepatorenal space (Morrison’s pouch), heart and bladder (pouch of Douglas). A FAST exam has high sensitivity in detecting as little as 100 ml of fluid. A FAST examination showing free fluid in any of the abdominal views in the presence of hypotension should lead to the patient being transported to the operating room for exploratory laparotomy according to the Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) algorithm. Angiographic embolization (A) is useful in patients with pelvic fractures and bleeding from pelvic vessels. CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis (B) can be performed in trauma patients who are stable to further assess for injuries.Diagnostic peritoneal lavage (C) does not play a role in management of penetrating trauma patients with hypotension and positive FAST examination.