What’s Your Diagnosis? Patient With Acute Dizziness November 29, 2019

Posted by Andy Jagoda, MD in: What's Your Diagnosis , 3 comments

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Case Presentation: A previously healthy man with dizziness

The day shift signs out to you a 44-year-old previously healthy man. He is currently at CT.

His dizziness started 6 hours previously and has been present ever since. He describes unsteadiness and “feeling like I am drunk,” and has vomited 3 times. He denies headache or neck pain, weakness, or numbness. His vital signs are normal. There is some left-beating horizontal nystagmus in primary gaze and in leftward gaze. The head impulse test is normal.

The sign-out is that if his CT scan is normal, he can go home with meclizine and follow-up with his PCP in 2 days.

That sounds reasonable, but you wonder if there is something else that needs to be considered…

Case Conclusion

You are NOT OK with the plan for discharge if the man’s CT is normal. His CT was normal, but sensitivity of noncontrast head CT in early posterior circulation stroke is very low and a negative CT should never reassure physicians that they have ruled out ischemic stroke. The absence of a report of “vertigo” is diagnostically meaningless. Although his nystagmus is consistent with a peripheral problem, it is also consistent with a central problem, so completing the bedside examination for a patient with an AVS is important. Calling the HIT “normal” is also problematic. “Normal” means the absence of a corrective saccade, which in the setting of the AVS is worrisome for stroke. Better terminology would be that HIT is “worrisome” or “reassuring,” and better yet, “absence or presence of a corrective saccade.” Since physical examination
is more sensitive than even early MRI for posterior circulation stroke presenting as isolated dizziness, this patient was admitted for a stroke workup.

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Test Your Knowledge: Nonconvulsive Status Epilepticus in the ED October 3, 2019

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Nonconvulsive status epilepticus (NCSE) is characterized by persistent change in mental status from baseline lasting more than 5 minutes, generally with epileptiform activity seen on EEG monitoring and subtle or no motor abnormalities. NCSE can be a difficult diagnosis to make in the emergency department setting, but the key to diagnosis is a high index of suspicion coupled with rapid initiation of continuous EEG and early involvement of neurology.

When a patient presents to the ED with new-onset altered mental status or unusual behavior without visible convulsive activity, how can you tell if it is nonconvulsive status epilepticus?

Can you get it right?

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The correct answer: D.

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What’s Your Diagnosis? Nonconvulsive Status Epilepticus: Overlooked and Undertreated September 30, 2019

Posted by Andy Jagoda, MD in: What's Your Diagnosis , 1 comment so far

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Case Presentation: An 81-year-old woman presents with 1 day of behavioral changes

An 81-year-old woman presents with 1 day of behavioral changes. On examination, she is disoriented, with no focal neurologic findings and no evidence of seizure activity. Her medical history is remarkable for anxiety, arthritis, and hypertension; she has no history of stroke, trauma, or immunocompromise. Her medications include furosemide, lorazepam, and acetaminophen. After an extensive workup in the ED including ECG, CBC, CMP, UA, and
brain CT, all of which were normal, she was admitted to the floor.

You wonder: Is there something you forgot to consider in your differential diagnosis?

Case Conclusion

The 81-year-old woman with AMS was evaluated by a neurologist on the floor. Her EEG showed irregular, rhythmic, generalized 2.0–2.5 Hz sharp-and-slow wave complexes that ceased after 10 mg of IV diazepam. Later, her husband noted that her daily lorazepam had recently been discontinued abruptly due to a change in insurance. The patient was diagnosed with NCSE. NCSE can develop in a patient with or without underlying epilepsy, and should be included in the differential of unexplained AMS, especially in the setting of chronic benzodiazepine use. A high level of suspicion is essential for early diagnosis, but urgent confirmatory EEG is required.

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Intravenous Thrombolysis in Acute Ischemic Stroke July 17, 2019

Posted by Andy Jagoda, MD in: Feature Update , add a comment

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and an important cause of long-term disability. Approximately 795,000 people suffer from stroke each year (610,000 primary strokes and 185,000 recurrent strokes),1 with ischemic stroke representing the vast majority of all stroke types (87%).

The cornerstone of acute ischemic stroke treatment relies on rapid clearance of an offending thrombus in the cerebrovascular system. Advanced neuroimaging and clinical trials, together with continuous adjustments of inclusion/exclusion criteria, have helped emergency clinicians to rapidly and more accurately identify the patients who will benefit from acute stroke treatment.

Inclusion and Exclusion of Intravenous Thrombolysis: A Changing Landscape

The American Heart Association (AHA) recently published updated guidelines for stroke management. Table 1, summarizes the updated 2018 AHA indications and contraindications for treatment with IVT. Every patient presenting with symptoms of acute stroke within 4.5 hours of last known well or usual state should be triaged for potential IVT. Patients should be evaluated with computed tomography (CT) scan of the brain and systolic blood pressure (SBP) should be maintained at < 185 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) at < 110 mm Hg. Every eligible patient should receive IVT without delay. Changes and adjustments of inclusion/exclusion criteria (in order to minimize the risk of any complication) have been made and are discussed in following sections.

Table 1. Eligibility Criteria and Exclusion Criteria for Intravenous Thrombolysis
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May is Trauma Awareness Month! May 16, 2019

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Clinical Pathway For Management In The Emergency Department Of Pediatric Patients With Suspected Cervical Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal injuries from blunt trauma are uncommon in pediatric patients, representing only about 1.5% of all blunt trauma patients. However, the potentially fatal consequences of spinal injuries make them of great concern to emergency clinicians.

Clinical goals in the emergency department are to identify all injuries using selective imaging and to minimize further harm from spinal cord injury. Achieving these goals requires an understanding of the age-related physiologic differences that affect patterns of injury and radiologic interpretation in children, as well as an appreciation of high-risk clinical clues and mechanisms.

Clinical Pathway For Management In The Emergency Department Of Pediatric Patients With Suspected Cervical Spinal Cord Injury

This clinical pathway will help you improve care in the management of pediatric patients with suspected cervical Spinal cord injury. Click here to download yours today. 

It is Stroke Awareness Month! May 16, 2019

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10 Risk Management Pitfalls For Cervical Artery Dissections

Cervical artery dissections involve the carotid or vertebral arteries. Although the overall incidence is low, they remain a common cause of stroke in children, young adults, and trauma patients. Symptoms such as headache, neck pain, and dizziness are commonly seen in the emergency department, but may not be apparent in the obtunded trauma patient. A missed diagnosis of cervical artery dissection can result in devastating neurological sequelae, so emergency clinicians must act quickly to recognize this event and begin treatment as soon as possible while neurological consultation is obtained.

Use these risk management pitfalls to avoid unwanted outcomes when performing cervical artery dissections. Download now.

1. “This patient has a left temporal headache that radiates into his left ear. His examination is benign, except his pupil is smaller on that side. I did a noncontrast CT head and it’s negative. The headache is probably just due to a hard game of basketball yesterday. I’m going to give him some IV ketorolac and send him out.”

Dissections can occur spontaneously or as a result of minor trauma, even from a basketball game. Failure to consider the diagnosis will result in a missed diagnosis. Headaches in carotid artery dissections can be nonspecific, but are mostly located in the frontal or temporal regions; the radiation to the ear is also characteristic. His examination is also concerning for a partial Horner syndrome. Both of those are suspicious for carotid artery dissection and warrant further vascular imaging.

2. “She has a history of migraines, and she says that this one is different from what she usually feels, but it definitely sounds like a migraine because it is unilateral, pulsatile, and she had a visual aura. I’m going to give her the usual migraine cocktail and see how she does.”

Not suspecting cervical arterial dissection in the beginning of the evaluation results in a significant delay to diagnosis. It can be many hours by the time she has a couple of migraine cocktails before you realize her headache isn’t better and you need to rethink your plan. Due to the risk of early stroke in these patients, a delay in diagnosis could lead to long-term neurological sequelae. Headaches in carotid dissections can be unilateral, pulsatile, and with an aura. Any time a patient with a history of migraines states that the symptoms are not typical, take note.

3. “A 35-year-old woman was attacked by her boyfriend. He hit her on the right side of the neck near her jaw, causing her head to snap around to the left. Her neurological examination is completely normal. She is in a great deal of pain, but it seems to be related to the soft-tissue injury from the hit, because her noncontrast CT head and c-spine are negative. I’m going to treat her pain and see how she feels.”

Pain due to the trauma could mask specific signs or symptoms of dissection. In these patients, relying on the history to identify high-risk factors is important. Due to the location of the blow, it may have caused a hyperextension and rotation of her head in addition to direct trauma, which could have caused a dissection. Patients with risk factors should have advanced vascular imaging (CTA or MRA).

4. “I couldn’t do a neurological examination because she was in too much pain. I’ll treat her headache and then try again later.”

Although it seems kind to give patients a little time to obtain comfort before performing an examination, a prompt neurological examination is absolutely necessary in order to determine any findings that need to be addressed immediately, such as an acute stroke.

5. “A 12-year-old boy fell off of his bike after running into a parked car, and then he had a seizure. The noncontrast CT head and c-spine were normal. He is still in some pain, but I don’t see anything abnormal on his neuro examination, so I’m going to clear his c-spine.”

Pediatric patients with dissection have different symptoms from adults; seizure has been shown to be a presenting symptom in 12.5% of cases. The seizure, along with the mechanism, should prompt vascular imaging to assess for a cervical artery dissection before the cervical collar is removed.

6. “I really thought that patient with the headache, anterolateral neck pain, and partial Horner syndrome had a carotid dissection, but the CTA was read as negative, so I guess I was wrong. I’ll just treat her pain and send her home.”

CTA is an excellent screening tool, but it is not 100% sensitive and can miss small intimal flaps, intramural hematomas, or a slight fusiform dilatation of the vessel. In patients for whom there is a high suspicion of dissection and a negative or equivocal CTA or MRA, further imaging with MRI or digital subtraction angiography is indicated.

7. “The CTA showed a dissection, so I gave him an aspirin and called neurology. However, he now says he doesn’t want to wait and wants to go home. His neuro examination is normal, so I was thinking of sending him out on aspirin.”

Sending the patient home in the acute setting without consultation is not a good idea. Due to high risk of stroke in the first 24 hours and the high incidence of progression of lower-grade dissections, these patients warrant close monitoring and early follow-up imaging to determine the need for escalation of care.

8. “The intubated trauma patient had his noncontrast CT head and c-spine and the radiologist just called and said there is a temporal bone fracture through the carotid canal. I’m going to pass it along and let the trauma service finish the workup after he gets to the intensive care unit.”

This will lead to a significant delay in diagnosis, which could be devastating for the patient. Due to its sensitivity and availability in the ED, a CTA should be performed prior to the patient being transported upstairs, so treatment can be started immediately.

9. “The CTA showed a vertebral artery dissection on that patient from the roller coaster ride, so I consulted the neurology service for admission. Her neuro examination is normal, so I’m going to wait to treat her and see what they recommend.”

An antithrombotic agent for stroke prevention needs to be started on this patient and can be started in the ED to avoid treatment delays. Studies in this population have not shown superiority of one over the other, so the choice of aspirin or heparin depends on patient factors. For uncomplicated dissections, antiplatelet agents are sufficient, and heparin is preferred in patients with an acute thrombus or high risk for thromboembolic events if no contraindications exist.

10. “The patient is a 42-year-old man presenting with an acute onset of right-sided hemiplegia and global aphasia that started 1 hour ago while at the grocery store. His CT head was negative for hemorrhage, but the CTA showed a dissection in his left carotid artery with about 50% vessel occlusion. Unfortunately, that excludes him from treatment with rtPA due to the risk of hemorrhage or intramural hematoma expansion.”

Data have shown rtPA to be as safe in patients with cervical dissections as with patients with strokes due to other causes. Therefore, this patient should be treated with rtPA as soon as possible if there are no contraindications. Endovascular treatment should also be considered if there are contraindications to IV rtPA or if he does not improve after treatment.

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It is Stroke Awareness Month! Can you solve the stroke case below? May 10, 2019

Posted by Andy Jagoda, MD in: What's Your Diagnosis , 1 comment so far

Was it a “mini stroke”? — ED Management of Transient Ischemic Attack

Case Recap:
A 59-year-old obese woman presents to your community hospital ED after experiencing a distinct episode in which her left hand felt “clumsy,” along with a left facial droop and left-sided numbness. She denies experiencing frank weakness and states that the symptoms resolved in less than 10 minutes. She mentions that she experienced a similar episode 2 weeks prior, and is concerned because both her parents and an older sibling experienced disabling ischemic strokes. Her vital signs and point-of-care glucose were normal, and her ECG showed sinus rhythm. Her physical examination, including a detailed neurologic examination, was largely unrevealing, with no facial asymmetry, unilateral weakness, sensory loss, or dysmetria appreciated. A noncontrast cranial CT scan of the brain was remarkable only for nonspecific subcortical and periventricular white matter changes without evidence of acute or old infarction, mass, or hemorrhage. Although she is relieved to learn that she has not had a stroke, she is concerned that this may be a precursor of a more serious event. She does not have a primary care physician and states that she has not seen a physician in several years. She asks whether this was a “mini stroke” and, if yes, what the chances are that she will have a stroke in the future?

Case Conclusion:
The 59-year-old obese patient’s detailed description of abrupt, negative symptoms appropriately raised your concern for a right anterior circulation TIA. You calculated her ABCD2 score as a 2, correctly counting her reported facial droop and unilateral weakness. Knowing recent risk stratification data, you counseled her that her 7-day stroke risk was very low; however, you also remembered that the periventricular white matter hypointensities on CT may be indicative of underlying small-vessel cerebrovascular disease, and her report of multiple recent episodes raised your concern. Since your observation unit was at capacity, you insisted on hospital admission. As an inpatient, she underwent MRI/MRA, revealing extensive small-vessel disease and multiple lacunar infarctions of varying ages. She was seen by a neurologist, started on antiplatelet therapy, and counseled on diet and exercise strategies. She remained stroke-free at a 3-month follow-up appointment.

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Clinical Pathway for Emergency Department Management of Subarachnoid Hemorrhage February 17, 2019

Posted by Andy Jagoda, MD in: Feature Update , 1 comment so far

Headache is the fourth most common reason for emergency department encounters, accounting for 3% of all visits in the United States. Though troublesome, 90% are relatively benign primary headaches –migraine, tension, and cluster headaches. The other 10% are secondary headaches, caused by separate underlying processes, with vascular, infectious, or traumatic etiologies, and they are potentially life-threatening.

This clinical pathway will help you improve care in the management of patients with subarachnoid hemorrhage. Download now.

Life-Threatening Headache. What do you do? February 12, 2019

Posted by Andy Jagoda, MD in: What's Your Diagnosis , 2 comments

A 55-year-old man with history of nonsmall cell lung cancer who is on cisplatin presents with an acute headache and lethargy for 6 hours. His vital signs are remarkable for a blood pressure of 210/120 mm Hg, heart rate of 70 beats/min, and a temperature of 36.7°C (98°F). His physical exam reveals a lethargic patient with no localizing neurologic signs and no meningismus. You order a noncontrast CT of the head and consider lowering this patient’s blood pressure, though you wonder how much and how fast it should be reduced…

Case Conclusion:
You recognize that this cancer patient’s change in mental status and severely elevated blood pressure was likely the result of PRES. You obtained a CT of the head, which revealed white-matter changes in the posterior cerebral hemispheres. Utilizing IV nicardipine, you lowered the patient’s MAP by 25% over the first hour. In addition, you temporarily discontinued his chemotherapy medication. He subsequently became more alert and responsive.

Would you have done it different? Tell us how you would have handled this case.

Diagnostic sensitivity of ED clinical assessment — Brain Teaser. Do you know the answer? November 26, 2018

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Test your knowledge and see how much you know about treating and managing pediatric bacterial meningitis.


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The correct answer: C.

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