Decisions: A 20-year-old male with dark stool

Medical Student Clinical Pearl – January 2019

Lucy Eum – Med I Class of 2021, Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick 

Reviewed and Edited by Dr. David Lewis


A 20-year-old African male presented to the emergency department with black, tarry stool for the past two days. He appeared hemodynamically stable. He was treated for peptic ulcer disease (PUD) due to Helicobacter pylori infection eight months ago after an episode of severe hemorrhage. His medications included ferrous sulfate and Pepto-Bismol. He did not have a primary care provider.

What diagnoses should be considered?

90% of melena is due to upper gastrointestinal (GI) hemorrhage proximal to the ligament of Treitz, but the pharynx and small bowel may sometimes be involved.2 Major causes of upper GI bleeding include PUD, varices, Mallory-Weiss tear, or neoplasms.1 Life-threatening hemorrhage, varices, ulcerations, arteriovenous malformations, and malignancy must also be considered.1

It is important to distinguish between dark stool from blood, known as melena, and dark stool from other causes, such as iron or bismuth. Liquid consistency, shininess, and foul smell are distinct features of melena. 5

What questions should this patient be asked?

Symptoms can help determine the severity and etiology.1 Upper abdominal pain is common with peptic ulcer. Dysphagia combined with weight loss and early satiety is characteristic of malignancy. Significant coughing or retching may lead to Mallory-Weiss tear.2

Comorbidities and prior episodes of upper GI bleeding should be asked. History of liver disease and alcoholism are associated with variceal hemorrhage. Abdominal aortic aneurysm is associated with an aortoenteric fistula. A history of H. pylori infection and NSAID use are risk factors for PUD.2

The use of NSAIDs, antiplatelets, or anticoagulants must be identified. Medications that can induce pill esophagitis (i.e. bisphosphonates) also need to be identified. Bismuth and iron can both lead to harmless darkening of the stool.2

Are any investigations required?

Physical exam begins with an assessment of the patient’s hemodynamic stability.2 Signs of any co-morbidities should be noted. Laboratory tests should include complete blood count, liver function tests, and serum electrolytes. The hemoglobin level may be unchanged from baseline for the first 24 hours.1

Is fecal occult blood test required?

The FOBT has only been validated for use in asymptomatic patients for colorectal cancer (CRC) screening.5 For symptomatic (i.e. melena) patients with high pre-test probability of GI bleeding, the FOBT has a high false positive rate.5

Foods with peroxidase activity (i.e. red meat), vitamin C, antiplatelets and anticoagulants can influence the FOBT results,5 therefore dietary and medication restriction for three days is needed.3 Therefore, the FOBT is unsuitable for emergency rooms despite common use in this setting as a point-of-care (POC) test.3 The newer immunochemical FOBTs do not require dietary restriction and have shown improved accuracy as POC testing for CRC, but its accuracy in evaluating black-coloured stools remains unclear.3, 7

There is speculation that FOBT may be used for patients with dark stools on iron supplementation.3 However, melena is usually well-characterized by its liquid consistency, shininess, and foul smell. Importantly, the FOBT has never been validated for such use to distinguish between melena and other causes of dark stool.3, 5

How should this patient be managed?

A hemodynamically stable patient should be promptly categorized according to rebleeding and mortality risk, using the Glasgow Blatchford Score (GBS) or Rockall Score. They are validated tools based on information such as the patient’s blood pressure, hemoglobin level, and co-morbidities.4, 6

Although pre-endoscopic empiric therapy with PPI is recommended for all patients, this is based on the excellent safety profile of PPIs rather than evidence regarding their efficacy.4 Histamine-2 receptor antagonists are ineffective as preendoscopic therapy.4, 6

Endoscopy within the first 24 hours of presentation is recommended for suspected GI bleeding,1,4 although patients with very low GBS Score (i.e. zero) are unlikely to benefit.5

Generally, all patients with upper GI bleeding require gastroenterology consult. In cases where endoscopy is not suitable, surgical consultation is needed.2

Case revisited

Physical exam and lab results were unremarkable except low hemoglobin, which yielded a total GBS Score of 2 for this patient. Since this is considered high risk1, gastroenterology was consulted. The patient was given an infusion of IV PPI.

Although the patient is on iron and bismuth, he had been on these medications for many months, and, given his history of severe hemorrhage due to PUD without a family physician to provide follow-up care, it was deemed appropriate to investigate further.


1. Kim B, Li B, Engel A, Samra J, Clarke S, Norton I et al. Diagnosis of gastrointestinal bleeding: A practical guide for clinicians. World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pathophysiology. 2014;5(4):467.

2. Cappell M, Friedel D. Initial Management of Acute Upper Gastrointestinal Bleeding: From Initial Evaluation up to Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. Medical Clinics of North America. 2008;92(3):491-509.

3. Ip S, Sokoro A, Buchel A, Wirtzfeld D, Konrad G, Fatoye T et al. Use of Fecal Occult Blood Test in Hospitalized Patients: Survey of Physicians Practicing in a Large Central Canadian Health Region and Canadian Gastroenterologists. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology. 2013;27(12):711-716.

4. Barkun A, Fallone C, Chiba N, Fishman M, Flook N, Martin J et al. A Canadian Clinical Practice Algorithm for the Management of Patients with Non-Variceal Upper Gastrointestinal Bleeding. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology. 2004;18(10):605-609.

5. Narula N, Ulic D, Al-Dabbagh R, Ibrahim A, Mansour M, Balion C et al. Fecal Occult Blood Testing as a Diagnostic Test in Symptomatic Patients is not Useful: A Retrospective Chart Review. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2014;28(8):421-426.

6. Barkun A. International Consensus Recommendations on the Management of Patients With Nonvariceal Upper Gastrointestinal Bleeding. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2010;152(2):101.

7. Huddy JR, Ni MZ, Markar SR, Hanna GB. Point-of-care testing in the diagnosis of gastrointestinal cancers: Current technology and future directions. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2015;21(14):4111.

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EM Reflections – January 2019

Thanks to Dr. Paul Page for leading the discussions this month

Edited by Dr David Lewis 

Top tips from this month’s rounds:

  1. Conversion disorder – remember = diagnosis of exclusion.  Consider admission for urgent workup for patients with neurological findings and no definitive diagnosis.  Or good documentation if thought to be functional disorder.
  2. CT reports – important to document details of Diagnostic Imaging report (verbal, system or dictated).  Be aware of old reports on dictation system and make sure report is the appropriate one.
  3. Vision loss – acute vision loss needs to be seen ASAP for assessment.  Don’t need room 27 (eye room) for all eye cases. Emergent ophthalmology cases can be initially assessed in any room.
  4. Supracondylar Fractures – remove ice packs etc to have a good look at all Ortho injuries during triage assessment, even when brought in by EMS.  Assess for limb deformity, skin tenting and especially neuro-vascular compromise. These patients should be urgently assessed and appropriately managed including analgesia, splinting and emergent reduction if indicated. Don’t need to wait for room 10 ( Fracture Procedure Room) for emergent Ortho cases.

Learning Points:

Scanning Dysarthria

Scanning dysarthria (scanning speech, explosive speech) is a stuttering dysarthria found in cerebellar disorders. Spoken words are broken up into separate syllables, often separated by a noticeable pause, and spoken with varying force. The sentence “Walking is good exercise”, for example, might be pronounced as “Walk (pause) ing is good ex (pause) er (pause) cise”. Additionally, stress may be placed on unusual syllables. Charcot’s neurological triad suggestive of multiple sclerosis has it has one of the three classic symptoms.

Corneal Hydrops

Corneal hydrops is the acute onset of corneal edema due to a break in Descemet membrane. This condition may be seen in individuals with advanced keratoconus or other forms of corneal ectasia. More here

Keratoconus is a disorder in which the cornea assumes an irregular conical shape. Acute hydrops is a well-known complication, occurring in approximately 3% of patients with keratoconus. Hydrops occurs after rupture of the posterior cornea leads to an influx of aqueous humor into the cornea, resulting in edema. Corneal edema typically resolves in 6 to 10 weeks; therefore, hydrops is usually not an indication for emergency corneal transplantation. Infectious causes of corneal opacification and visual loss, such as bacterial, viral, or fungal keratitis, must be ruled out as the cause of acute visual loss.

Seidel Test

The test used to reveal ocular leaks from the cornea, sclera or conjunctiva following injury or surgery and sometimes disease is called Seidel test.

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Resident Clinical Pearl: Arterial bleeding

Approach to Arterial Bleeding in the Upper Extremity

Resident Clinical Pearl (RCP) – November 2018

Tara DahnCCFP-EM PGY3, Dalhousie University, Halifax NS

Reviewed by Dr. David Lewis

This post was copyedited by Dr. Mandy Peach

You are working a shift in RAZ when a pair of paramedics wheel a man on a stretcher into one of the procedure rooms. He is sitting upright and looking around but his entire left forearm and hand are wrapped in towels, which are taped tightly down. “I don’t know what’s hurt but there was a lot of blood”, he says when questioned. He had been using a reciprocating saw in his workshop.

Vital signs: T 36.5, HR 90, BP 135/90, RR 18, O2 sats 98% on RA

You ask the nurses to find a tourniquet to put around the patients arm as you start unwrapping his giant towel mitt. You get down to the skin and find a deep 1 inch transverse laceration along the radial side of the wrist. Initially there is no active bleeding, you gingerly pock the wound and …Ooops… immediately bright red pulsatile blood starts pumping out from the distal wound edge and your scrubs will need to be change before you see the next patient.

Approach to arterial bleeding in upper extremity

Life over limb

  • Get control of the bleeding and if needed focus on other more pressing injuries. Start resuscitation if needed
  • There is no bleeding in the extremity that you can’t stop with manual compression.
  • If you can’t spare a person to compress artery then consider a tourniquet. (see Table 1 on tourniquets)
  • Avoid blindly clamping as nerves are bundled with vascular structures and can be easily damaged.


Determine if arterial bleeding/injury exists

Look for hard or soft signs of arterial injury (See Table 2)

If hard signs of arterial injury in major vessel the patient will need operative care. Imaging is not required unless site of bleeding is not clear (and patient is stable).
If there are soft signs of arterial injury do an Arterial Pressure Index (see Box 1) to help determine if there is an underlying arterial injury.
o If API >0.9: Patient unlikely to have an arterial injury. Observe or discharge based on nature of injury/patient.
o If API < 0.9: Possible arterial injury. Patient will need further investigation, preferably by CTA.

  • API is recommended over ABI (Ankle Brachial Index) in lower extremity injuries. ABI compares lower extremity SBP to brachial SBP. Usually patients will have more atherosclerotic disease in their lower extremities, which can falsely elevate their ABI and make it harder to detect a vascular injury. The API, on the other hand, relies on the fact that the amount of atherosclerotic disease is usually symmetric between the two upper and two lower extremities.
  • API is a very good test. An API less than 0.9 has a sensitivity and specificity of 95% and 97% for major arterial injury respectively, and the negative predictive value for an API greater than 0.9 is 99% (Levy et al., 2005).

Consider vessel injured

  • A good understanding of vascular anatomy is important to identify which vessel is injured. See figures 1 and 2.

Figure 1: Upper Extremity Arteries

Figure 2: Lower Extremity Arteries

Examine distal extremity well.

  • In the excitement of pulsatile bleeding it can be easy to be tempted to skip/rush this. But with bleeding controlled remember that the extremities are much less picky about blood supply than your vital organs. You can take a few minutes to examine the distal limbs neurovascular status (blood supply, sensory and motor, tendon integrity) and should as this will be important for management decisions.
  • Arterial injuries can very often be accompanied by nerve and tendon injuries. Complete a full assessment. See Figures 3 &4 for neurologic assessment of hand.
  • Most disability following arterial injuries is not due to the actual arterial injury, but due to the accompanying nerve injury (Ekim, 2009).

Figure 3: Motor examination of the hand. 1 – Median nerve. 2- Ulnar nerve. 3- Radial nerve (Thai et al., 2015)
Figure 4: Sensory innervation of the hand and nerve locations (Thai et al., 2015)

Explore wound carefully

  • It is important to explore the wound carefully to look for other structures damaged.
  • Examine tendons and muscles by putting their accompanying joints through a full ROM to see partial lacerations that may have been pulled out of sight.

Control bleeding definitively

Proximal arterial injuries (brachial artery, proximal radial/ulnar artery)

-All brachial artery injuries will require urgent repair by vascular surgeon.
-The “golden period” is 6-8 hours before ischemia-reperfusion injury will endanger the viability of the limb (Ekim, 2009). Degree of ischemia depends on whether injury is proximal or distal to the profunda brachii (Ekim, 2009)
-Larger more proximal arteries are rarely injured alone and will nearly all have nerve/tendon/muscle injuries also requiring operative repair

Forearm/hand arterial injuries
-Many arterial injuries in/near the hand will NOT require operative repair as there are very robust collaterals in the hand with dual blood supply from the radial and ulnar arteries in most people.

-Steps to management
Manual direct digital compression: 15 minutes direct pressure without interruption will often be successful on its own.

Temporary tourniquet application and wound closure with running non-absorbable suture followed by compact compressive dressing. If vessel obviously visible may try tying off but blindly clamping/tying will likely injury neighboring structures, particularly nerves.

Operative repair may be required if bleeding cannot be controlled with above measures.
Studies have shown that in the absence of acute hand ischemia, simple ligation of a lacerated radial or ulnar artery is safe and cost effective (Johnson, M. & Johansen M.F., 1993) however some surgeons may still opt to perform a primary repair.


Approach for our case

Life over limb

Patient was hemodynamically stable at presentation. IV access had already been obtained by the paramedics. Bleeding was controlled with direct pressure. When visualization was required at the site of the wound a tourniquet was used.

Determine if arterial bleeding
Our patient had a clear hard sign for arterial bleeding- pulsatile blood

Consider vessel injured
Our patients pulsatile bleeding was coming from the distal edge of the wound. Leading us to conclude that it was pulsing retrograde from the palmar arch (See Figure 5 for more detailed anatomy).

Examine distal extremity well
Our patient had a completely normal sensory and motor exam of his hand as well as normal tendon function. Lucky!

Explore wound carefully
A tourniquet was needed to properly visualize and explore the wound. There were no other injured structures identified.

Control the bleeding definitively
Direct pressure for 15 minutes did not stop the bleeding. The ends of the vessel were not identified on initial wound inspection. The wound was extended a short distance (~1cm) in the direction of the bleeding but still the vessel was not identified.

Plastic surgery was consulted. They extended the wound another 3 cm distally and were able to identify the artery, which had been transected longitudinally. They concluded that it was likely the radial artery just past the superficial palmar branch. The hand was well perfused and thus the artery was ligated. The wound was irrigated well, closed and the patient was discharged with a volar slab splint and follow up.



Ekim, H. & Tuncer, M. (2009). Management of traumatic brachial artery injuries: A report on 49 patients. Ann Saudi Med. 29(2): 105-109.

Johnson, M. & Johansen, M.F. (1993). Radial or Ulnar Artery Laceration – Repair or Ligate? Arch Surg 128(9), 971-975.

Levy, B. A., Zlowodzki, M.P., Graves, M. & Cole, P.A. (2005). Screening for extremity arterial injury with the arterial pressure index. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 23(5), 689-695.

Thai, J.N. et al. (2015). Evidence-based Comprehensive Approach to Forearm Arterial Laceration. Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, 16(7), 1127-1134.

Life in the Fast Lane: Extremity arterial injury

Tinntinalli’s Emergency Medicine


This post was copyedited by Dr. Mandy Peach

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Improving the economy, and our health with one simple action – reading.

Improving the health and the wealth of the population can seem like a complex, almost impossible, task for governments. It may therefore seem somewhat surprising that a single inexpensive intervention could make a major impact on both. Believe it or not, the number of hours a child reads when young could significantly impact their health and wealth later in life, and also improve the economy.

Indeed, it seems that simply by ensuring kids read more before they start school, and most certainly in the early years at school, the economy and the lives of citizens could be impacted significantly for the better. How so?

In New Brunswick (NB), our students preform reasonably well on reading and mathematics when compared to other countries. NB reading scores for 15 year olds (PISA 2016) are just above the OECD average of 493 points at 505. However, they lag behind the rest of Canada, where the average score was 527 points. A similar pattern is seen with GDP, with New Brunswick showing a GDP per capita of CAN$45,187 (US$35,375) in 2016, compared with Canada at CAN$56,129 (US$43,938), and international rates as high as US$102,831 in Luxembourg (World Bank 2016).

Research from many countries has shown that the best predictor of future education achievement and life success regardless of socio-economic background is reading ability. And what is the best predictor of Grade 2 reading levels? That would be how much a child has read up to that age (Simplicity 2018). Not what they have read, just the total reading hours.

So the number of hours a child spends reading in their early years predicts their reading ability (learning to read), which in turn helps them read to learn through their school years. This in turn is associated with better earnings and better GDP per capita, which in turn is associated with improved health outcomes (Swift 2011).

So, if you want your child to be healthy, wealthy and wise, perhaps getting early to bed every day is important, but not before they have spent some time reading!

Let’s get our children reading early, and reading more!




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“Double double” yellow lines for improved road safety!

When it comes to reducing road deaths and injuries in New Brunswick, perhaps we should be inspired by Voltaire to avoid letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Most serious collisions on our roads result from a combination of problems with road conditions, human factors, technology, and chance. While public safety campaigns and legislation try to affect many of the human factors by highlighting the dangers of distracted driving, intoxication (a subject for another day), and speed; and car manufacturers continue to improve vehicle safety; there is strong evidence that as a society, through improved regulations, we can also save lives by simple changes to road conditions and layout.

According to the world report on road traffic injury prevention, the Dutch policy of sustainable safety divides roads into one of three types according to their function, and then sets speed limits and driving conditions accordingly. These categories are Flow Roads; Distributor Roads; and Residential Roads. For Residential Roads, the needs of non-motorized users take priority, with the use of sidewalks, cycle lanes, crosswalks and slow speed limits. Distributor Roads carry traffic to and from large urban districts, and give equal importance to motorized and non-motorized local traffic, but separate users wherever possible, with variable speed limits. Flow Roads, or arterial roads and highways, are designed to allow through-traffic to go from the place of departure to the destination without interruption. Speed limits are higher, and there should be complete separation of traffic streams. It is on this last point that we in New Brunswick often fail.

While we are fortunate to have many kilometres of twinned highways, we also have several medium volume undivided Arterial Highways such as routes 7 and 11, to name two. And this is where we should consider Voltaire’s observation. We cannot afford to twin all our arterial roads, however we can afford to modify high-risk areas to minimize the chances of major collisions occurring.

If roads did not exist, and we were to ask an engineer to design a safe road for two-way traffic, how likely is it that they would deliberately place oncoming traffic,a mixture of family vehicles and large commercial trucks, heading towards each other at combined speeds of over 200kph separated only by a thin yellow line, encouraging, in places, faster traffic to move into the apposing lane, directly facing oncoming traffic, to pass slower vehicles? Unlikely! So now that we know better, with strong evidence to back up what is essentially good common sense, can we not introduce some simple low cost measures to improve safety?


We saw how the government acted quickly to enact “Ellen’s Law” legislating a minimum passing distance of one metre for cars passing cyclists. Should we not consider similar principles for oncoming traffic – perhaps widening the central yellow line to a one metre wide “painted barrier” on fast arterial roads? Kind of like a “double double” yellow line! The addition of central rumble strips to such a widened median, and the erection of central median barriers in high risk areas, with safe passing zones, are all much lower cost interventions than twinning every kilometer of our road network – the perfect solution that will never happen, yet the idea of which stops us implementing other solutions that could save lives. Let’s stop the perfect becoming the enemy of the good when it comes to road safety.

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Is CT-defined obstruction a predictor of urological intervention in emergency department patients presenting with renal colic?

Larger proximal ureteral stones with severe pain, rather than ureteral obstruction, are associated with urological intervention [excerpt]

…According to the latest Canadian Urological Association guidelines for management of ureteral stones, patients presenting with ureteral stones <5 mm could be managed conservatively, provided that they don’t have infectious symptoms, intolerable pain, or a threat to renal function.1 When urological intervention is contemplated, the decision-making process takes into account patient- related factors (intolerable pain, infectious complications, impending renal failure, coagulopathies and renal anomalies including solitary kidney); and stone-related factors (stone size, location, density, and skin-to-stone distance). However, signs of ureteral obstruction on computed tomography (CT) are not part of the guidelines.

In their study, Massaro et al performed a retrospective review of 195 patients presenting with ureteral stones at a tertiary Canadian centre [@SJRHEM] between 2011 and 2013.2 Forty-two per- cent of the patients presenting with ureteral stones underwent urological intervention, including cystoscopy with retrograde pyelography, placement of ureteric stent, shockwave lithotrip- sy, and/or ureteroscopic laser lithotripsy. A radiologist and a urologist independently reviewed all CT scans for prede ned criteria of ureteral obstruction (no obstruction, partial, or com- plete obstruction) based on degree of hydronephrosis, hydro- ureter, nephromegaly, and perinephric stranding. In addition, the authors examined other potential predictors for interven- tion, including patient demographics, stone size and location, amount of analgesics used, signs and symptoms of infection, serum creatinine, cumulative intravenous uid administered, and the prescription of medical expulsive therapy.

Not surprisingly, the authors found that stone size and location, in addition to cumulative opioid dose, were independent predictors for urological intervention. In fact, every mm increase in stone size increased the likelihood of intervention 2.2 times (odds ratio [OR] 2.17; 95%  [CI] 1.67‒2.85). The OR exceeded unity for stones larger than 4.5 mm, indicating higher likelihood of urological intervention for stones larger than 4.5 mm. Similarly, proximal stones were 4.7 times more likely to require intervention than distal stones (OR 0.21; 95% CI 0.09‒0.49). Finally, every 10 mg increase in morphine administered was associated with a 30% increase in the odds of intervention (OR 1.30; 95% CI 1.07‒1.58). However, degree of obstruction was not an independent predictor of intervention for ureteral stones (OR 1.757; 95% CI 0.899‒3.436). Finally, none of the variables predicted 30-day return to the emergency department (ED). This could be explained by the very low number of returns to the ED in both groups.

Despite its retrospective nature, this study con rms previ- ous studies that ureteral stone size (>4.5 mm), proximal loca- tion, and intractable pain requiring higher doses of opioids are associated with urological intervention. Furthermore, the degree of ureteral obstruction on CT scans did not pre- dict intervention. While CT scan ndings of hydronephrosis, hydroureter, nephromegaly, and perinephric stranding are helpful in diagnosing ureteral stones, they are not helpful in guiding the decision-making process for intervention.

Sero Andonian, MD, MSc, FRCSC, FACS; Associate Professor of Urology, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada

Cite as: Can Urol Assoc J 2017;11(3-4):93.


  1. Ordon M, Andonian S, Blew B, et al. CUA guideline: Management of ureteral calculi. Can Urol Assoc J 2015;9(11-12):E837-51.
  2. Massaro PA, Kanji A, Atkinson P, et al. Is computed tomography-de ned obstruction a predictor of urological intervention in emergency department patients presenting with renal colic? Can Urol Assoc J 2017;11(3-4):88-92.

Read the @SJRHEM paper here…

Download (PDF, 268KB)


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“Bypass in a box” – Team ECMO takes first prize at Dragons’ Den Event

April 2017 – Team ECMO, lead by Drs. Paul Atkinson, Michael Howlett, Mark Tutschka, Jay Mekwan, and Mr. Bill O’Reilly, and representing Emergency Medicine, ICU and the NB Heart Centre, has been awarded the first prize of $75,000 to fund the initial phases of their proposed ECPR project. The team hopes to research the feasibility of introducing Extracorporeal CPR (“bypass in a box”) at the Saint John Regional Hospital.


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SHoC blog from @CanadiEM

Social media site @CanadiEM recently featured the @CJEMonline @IFEM2 #SHoC Consensus Protocol, featuring authors from @SJRHEM among others.

So why do we need another ultrasound protocol in emergency medicine? RUSHing from the original FAST scan, playing the ACES, FOCUSing on the CAUSE and meeting our FATE, it may seem SHoCking that many of these scanning protocols are not based on disease incidence or data on their impact, but rather on expert opinion. The Sonography in Hypotension (SHoC) protocols were developed by an international group of critical care and emergency physicians, using a Delphi consensus process, based upon the actual incidence of sonographic pathology detected in previously published international prospective studies [Milne; Gaspari]. The protocols are formulated to help the clinician utilize ultrasound to confirm or exclude common causes, and guides them to consider core, supplementary and additional views, depending upon the likely cause specific to the case.

Why would I take the time to scan the aorta of a 22 year old female with hypotension, when looking for pelvic free fluid might be more appropriate? Why would I not look for lung sliding, or B lines in a breathless shocked patient? Consideration of the shock category by addressing the “4 Fs” (fluid, form, function, and filling) will provide a sense of the best initial therapy and should help guide other investigations. Differentiating cardiogenic shock (a poorly contracting, enlarged heart, widespread lung B lines, and an engorged IVC) in an elderly hypotensive breathless patient, from sepsis (a vigorously contracting, normally sized or small heart, focal or no B lines, and an empty IVC) will change the initial resuscitation plan dramatically. Differentiating cardiac tamponade from tension pneumothorax in apparent obstructive shock or cardiac arrest will lead to dramatically differing interventions.

SHoC guides the clinician towards the more likely positive findings found in hypotensive patients and during cardiac arrest, while providing flexibility to tailor other windows to the questions the clinician needs to answer. One side does not fit all. That is hardly SHoCing news. Prospective validation of ultrasound protocols is necessary, and I look forward to future analysis of the effectiveness of these protocols.


Scalea TM, Rodriguez A, Chiu WC, et al. Focused Assessment with Sonography for Trauma (FAST): results from an inter- national consensus conference. J Trauma 1999;46:466-72.

Labovitz AJ, Noble VE, Bierig M, Goldstein SA, Jones R, Kort S, Porter TR, Spencer KT, Tayal VS, Wei K. Focused cardiac ultrasound in the emergent setting: a consensus statement of the American Society of Echocardiography and American College of Emergency Physicians. Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography. 2010 Dec 31;23(12):1225-30.

Hernandez C, Shuler K, Hannan H, Sonyika C, Likourezos A, Marshall J. C.A.U.S.E.: cardiac arrest ultra-sound exam – a better approach to managing patients in primary non-arrhythmogenic cardiac arrest. Resuscitation 2008;76:198–206

Atkinson PR, McAuley DJ, Kendall RJ, et al. Abdominal and Cardiac Evaluation with Sonography in Shock (ACES): an approach by emergency physicians for the use of ultrasound in patients with undifferentiated hypotension. Emerg Med J 2009;26:87–91

Perera P, Mailhot T, Riley D, Mandavia D. The RUSH exam: Rapid Ultrasound in Shock in the evaluation of the critically lll. Emerg Med Clin North Am 2010;28:29 – 56

Jensen MB, Sloth E, Larsen KM, Schmidt MB: Transthoracic echocardiography for cardiopulmonary monitoring in intensive care. Eur J Anaesthesiol. 2004, 21: 700-707.

Gaspari R, Weekes A, Adhikari S, Noble VE, Nomura JT, Theodoro D, Woo M, Atkinson P, Blehar D, Brown SM, Caffery T. Emergency department point-of-care ultrasound in out-of-hospital and in-ED cardiac arrest. Resuscitation. 2016 Dec 31;109:33-9.

Milne J, Atkinson P, Lewis D, et al. (April 08, 2016) Sonography in Hypotension and Cardiac Arrest (SHoC): Rates of Abnormal Findings in Undifferentiated Hypotension and During Cardiac Arrest as a Basis for Consensus on a Hierarchical Point of Care Ultrasound Protocol. Cureus 8(4): e564. doi:10.7759/cureus.564

Sonography in Hypotension and Cardiac Arrest: The SHoC Consensus Statement

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