New Blog!

As of today we have a new blog!

All future posts will be on our new blog. We will no longer be using this blog except as a repository for all previous content, which the new blog will link back to as needed.

If you subscribed to this blog, you will need to re-subscribe on the new blog.


CITW 15: The Red Ear

Welcome back to another Clinical Image of the Week from the case files of the Brown EM Residency!

HPI/ROS: 5 year old female with a history of recurrent otitis media who presents to the ED with right ear pain. Per the parents, she developed acute onset right ear pain and “redness” one week ago that was associated with fevers (Tm 103.2). She saw her pediatrician who started a course of Augmentin for otitis media, however, after three days of no improvement, she received IM antibiotics (unknown type) with only minimal improvement in symptoms. On the day of ED presentation, her ear redness had worsened and she had developed limited range of motion of the head and neck. Associated symptoms included headache, hearing loss, and sore throat. No congestion, runny nose, conjunctivitis, visual changes, numbness, weakness, discoordination, cough, dyspnea, wheezing, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. No sick contacts or recent travel. Shots are up to date.

Vital Signs: T 102.3, HR 156, RR 22, BP 118/72, SpO2 99% on RA

Pertinent physical exam: Patient found sitting on her mother’s lap, not playful or interactive. Right TM is erythematous and bulging. There is edema and erythema noted behind the right auricle with tenderness to palpation. Shotty cervical chain adenopathy appreciated. No ear discharge. Left TM is clear. Oropharynx is clear with moist mucous membranes. No focal or gross neurological deficits. No meningismus. Neck is supple. Heart is tachycardic. Abdomen soft, non-tender. Lungs clear to auscultation. No rashes. No other pertinent exam findings.

CT imaging was obtained:

Mastoiditis 1
Image 1: CT brain, axial cuts in bone window.
Mastoiditis 2
Image 2: CT brain, coronal cuts in bone window.

What’s the diagnosis?

Continue reading

Atrial Fibrillation, You’re a Heart Breaker, Dream Maker, Love Taker:

But At Least There is Low Risk for Thromboembolic Events With Speedy Conversion to Sinus Rhythm…

This post reviews the article from Weigner, Marilyn et al. “Risk for Clinical Thromboembolism Associated with Conversion to Sinus Rhythm in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation Lasting Less Than 48 Hours,” from the Annals of Internal Medicine in 1997 as part of the ongoing 52 article series.

Main Points:

  1. This article reveals only a 0.8% risk of clinical thromboembolic event for patients who were clinically estimated to be in atrial fibrillation for less than 48 hours.
  1. This trial data supports the recommendation for early cardioversion, either pharmacologic or through electric cardioversion, in patients with recent onset of symptoms without the need for prior diagnostic imaging to evaluate for clot burden.


Atrial fibrillation is a common arrhythmia and responsible for over 250,000 hospital admissions annually. Patients often feel the effects of depressed cardiac output from the loss of atrial systole and seek medical attention in hopes of improved quality of life. Patients may describe a range of symptoms including palpitations, dyspnea, dizziness, angina and fatigue. Studies have demonstrated that patients with atrial fibrillation for more than two days may have a greater than five percent risk of clinical thromboembolism and often require weeks of anticoagulation or screening with transesophageal echocardiography prior to cardioversion. This study sought to answer the question of whether or not patients who experienced only a short duration of symptoms were low risk for thromboembolic disease.


This was a prospective study of consecutive patients at two academic medical centers, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA and the John Dempsey Hospital and University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, CT. 1822 adult patients with a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation were screened and 375 patients who were clinically estimated to have symptoms for less than 48 hours were enrolled. Those patients whose duration of symptoms were unclear or had already initiated long term anticoagulation with warfarin were excluded. Patients with a previous history of thromboembolic events were not excluded, but one patient who had an acute thromboembolism was not enrolled in the trial. Clinical and transthoracic echocardiography data and outcomes were collected from review of the medical records. Clinical embolic events were considered if they occurred during the index hospitalization or within one month after conversion to sinus rhythm. Conditions that may have predisposed patients to atrial fibrillation included: previous history of atrial fibrillation (181 patients, 48.3%), hypertension (156, 41.7%), coronary artery disease (114, 30.4%), infection (25, 6.7%), history of thromboembolism (23, 6.1%), excessive alcohol use (22, 5.9%), rheumatic heart disease (7, 1.9%). Patients were noted to have left atrial dimensions of 4.2 +/- 0.7cm (normal ≤ 4.0cm) and a left atrial length of 5.7 +/- 0.7cm (normal ≤ 5.2cm) based on transthoracic echocardiogram data. 218 out of 280 patients who had echocardiograms performed were noted to have at least some evidence of mitral valve regurgitation with 61 patients noted to have either moderate or severe regurgitation.

Patients converted back to a normal sinus rhythm either spontaneously or through pharmacologic or electric cardioversion methods. Conversion was considered spontaneous if it occurred without the use of medications or electricity or in the setting of use of ventricular rate-controlling agents (digoxin, beta-blockers, and calcium channel blockers).

Three patients (0.8%, 95% CI 0.2-2.4) were noted to have a clinically significant thromboembolism and surprisingly all converted spontaneously. The cases included a left parietal embolic stroked in an 86 year old female with history of hypertension; a right proximal brachial artery embolus in an 83 year old female with coronary artery disease; and a transient ischemic attack in an 89 year old female with a recent diagnosis of pneumonia.

This study was a consecutive series that relied on both real time data gathering as well as retrospective chart review.

Level of Evidence:

This study was graded a level II based on the ACEP Clinical Policy Grading Scheme for prognostic questions and had only minimal methodological flaws.


The three patients in this trial were identified as having increased risk for thromboembolism based of the Stroke Prevention and Atrial Fibrillation Study I and II, however, how best to achieve post conversion anticoagulation in the era of direct oral anticoagulants remains a hot topic for further study and debate.

Relevant articles:

Mookadam, M. Shamoun FE. Mookadam, F. “Novel Anticoagulants in Atrial Fibrillation: A Primer for the Primary Physician.” J Am Board Fam Med, 2015, 28(4):510-22

Source Articles:

Weigner, M. Caulfield, T. Danias, P. et al. “Risk for Clinical Thromboembolism Associated with Conversion to Sinus Rhythm in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation Lasting Less Than 48 Hours.” Annals of Internal Medicine, 1997, (126):615-20.

Faculty Reviewer: Dr. Siket

Spare the Tube, Save a Life

This is part of a recurring series examining landmark articles in Emergency Medicine, in the style of ALiEM’s 52 Articles.


Brochard, L. Mancebo, J. Wtsocki, M. et al. “Noninvasive Ventilation for Acute Exacerbations of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.” NEJM 1995, 333(13):817-22.

Main Points:

  1. In this randomized prospective multicenter trial of 85 patients admitted to ICUs throughout Europe with COPD exacerbations, noninvasive ventilation reduced the need for endotracheal intubation, length of stay and in-hospital mortality rate.
  1. 31 of the 42 patients in the standard arm required intubation, compared to 11 of 43 patients in the noninvasive arm (p<0.001). These results were consistent among the five centers studied. The mortality rate and length of stay was similar in the two groups in whom endotracheal intubation was required, suggesting that the benefits observed in noninvasive ventilation resulted from lower rates of intubation.
Figure 1. Mask used to deliver noninvasive ventilation

Figure 1. Mask used to deliver noninvasive ventilation


COPD exacerbations often manifest as acute hypercapnic ventilatory failure and endotracheal intubation can be a life-saving procedure. This intervention, however, is not without associated risks both during the time of the procedure as well as later in the course of the patient’s care. This patient population is at risk for hemodynamic compromise during intubation and may be difficult to manage on the ventilator due to a multitude of concerns including air trapping and tachypnea. The risk for ventilator associated pneumonia and other complications secondary to being intubated for prolonged periods of time are also worth considering.

Brochard and his colleagues investigated the use of noninvasive ventilation in COPD exacerbations in hopes of reducing mortality through the reduction of intubation. Thiswas a multicenter prospective randomized study that recruited patients in five European ICUs. The primary and secondary outcomes were patient-centered and this article from 1995 has clearly framed the manner in which we manage the sick COPD patient today. The medications used and manner in which noninvasive ventilation is employed has evolved since the publication and a comprehensive review of management was published in 2010 by the American Academy of Family Physicians. ACEP also has published clinical guidelines on use of noninvasive ventilation in 2010.


This prospective multicenter study enrolled 85 out of 275 patients admitted to the ICU with COPD or a high probability of the disease based on careful history, physical examination and chest x-ray. Patients were selected if they had a respiratory acidosis and elevated bicarbonate level. Additional criteria included dyspnea for less than two weeks and at least two of the following: respiratory rate >30 BPM, partial pressure of arterial O2 <45 mm Hg, arterial pH <7.35 after the patient was breathing room air for at least 10 minutes. The exclusion criteria included: respiratory rate <12 BPM, need for immediate intubation-defined by strict criteria in the paper, already intubated, use of sedative drugs in the past 12 hours, CNS disorder, cardiac arrest in the past five days, cardiogenic pulmonary edema, neuromuscular or skeletal disorder, upper airway obstruction or asthma, clear cause of decompensation requiring treatment, or facial deformity. Patients were either assigned to the standard arm which included treatment with: maximum of 5LPM O2 by nasal prongs with goal O2 saturation >90%, medications such as subcutaneous heparin, antibiotic agents and bronchodilators (subcutaneous terbutaline, aerosolized or intravenous albuterol, corticosteroids or intravenous aminophylline), correction of electrolytes. The noninvasive arm received the same medications with the addition of periods of noninvasive ventilation. The same apparatus was used at all five sites to deliver pressure support of 20 cm H20 with an expiratory pressure that was atmospheric. Patients underwent noninvasive ventilation for at least six hours a day with overall duration determined by clinical criteria and arterial blood gal levels.

In order to standardize care, the authors created major and minor criteria as objective markers for the need to perform endotracheal intubation. The major criteria included: respiratory arrest, respiratory failure with LOC or gasping for air, psychomotor agitation making nursing care impossible and requiring sedation, HR<50 BPM with loss of alertness, hemodynamic instability with SBP <70 mm Hg. There was a series of minor criteria also relating to vital sign instability, mental status changes or arterial pH <7.3. In both groups the presence of one major criterion was an indication for intubation. After the first hour of treatment the presence of two minor criteria was an indication for intubation.

Patients were evaluated at the one hour, three hour and 12 hour mark following the initiation of therapy. The primary outcome examined was the need for endotracheal intubation with secondary end points including length of stay, complications not present on admission (pneumonia, barotrauma, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, renal insufficiency, neurologic events and pulmonary embolism), duration of ventilatory assistance, and mortality rate during hospitalization. 31 of the 42 patients in the standard arm required intubation, compared to 11 of 43 patients in the noninvasive arm (p<0.001). Per the authors, these results were consistent among the five centers studied, however, examining table 2 sites one and two seemed to have high percentages of intubation, 100 and 83 percent respectively, compared to the others. This may be skewed by the overall low numbers studied. Patients who ultimately were intubated both in the standard and noninvasive arms had extended ventilation time with 17 +/- 21 days and 25 +/- 17 days respectively. Complications and events leading to death are shown in Table 4.

Level of Evidence:

This study was graded a level I based on the ACEP Clinical Policy Grading Scheme for therapeutic questions.


The use of pressure support of 20/0 is quite different from the manner in which many providers initiate noninvasive ventilation today. This may be secondary to the limitations of the technology at the time because the photograph in figure 1 (see above) displays a mask that appears different from what you find on modern machines.

Relevant articles:

Ahn, J. Pillow, T. “Focus On: Noninvasive Positive Pressure Ventilation in the Emergency Department.” 2010,—Practice-Management/Focus-On–Noninvasive-Positive-Pressure-Ventilation-In-the-Emergency-Department/

Evensen, A. “Management of COPD Exacerbation.” Am Fam Physician 2010, 81(5): 607-13.

Faculty Reviewer: Dr. Siket

Source Articles:

Brochard, L. Mancebo, J. Wtsocki, M. et al. “Noninvasive Ventilation for Acute Exacerbations of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.” NEJM 1995, 333(13):817-22.

Perusing the Literature: Skin Glue for Peripheral IV Securement

This month we continue our Perusing of the Literature. Once again, this section consists of recent articles that residents and attendings have stumbled across that have raised an eyebrow. These posts are meant to spark a discussion and do not represent a change in the standard of care (unless otherwise noted).

The Article: Bugden S, et al. Skin Glue Reduces the Failure Rate of Emergency Department-Inserted Peripheral Intravenous Catheters: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Ann Emerg Med. 2016;1-6.

The One-Liner: Skin glue, in addition to standard care securement, may reduce peripheral intravenous catheter failure rates at 48 hours for admitted patients after insertion in the ED.

 Background: Frequently initiated in the ED setting, peripheral intravenous (IV) catheters may fail with inadequate fixation serving as the underlying etiology in infection, phlebitis, occlusion, or dislodgement. Failure disrupts hydration, antibiotic therapy, and analgesia for the patient, and incurs the added costs of additional supplies and staff time. In comparison to standard polyurethane dressings, medical-grade skin glue (cyanoacrylate) in addition to a dressing has been proven to be more effective in securing central venous, epidural, and peripheral arterial catheters. As peripheral IVs are administered on such a wide scale, a small increase in efficacy has the potential for great improvements in cost and patient satisfaction.

Methods: This was a single-site, 2-arm, nonblinded, randomized, controlled trial over a 5 month period. Patients were screened for inclusion after being identified as requiring hospital admission and having a patent upper limb peripheral IV. Patients were randomized to standard peripheral IV catheter securement (Tegaderm IV; Figure 1) or standard securement plus the addition of skin glue (single-use Histoacryl; Figure 2). The skin glue group received 1 drop of cyanoacrylate glue at the IV skin insertion site and 1 drop under the IV catheter hub (Video 1). The dressing was applied after allowing the glue to dry for <30 seconds. The primary outcome was peripheral IV catheter failure at 48 hours, defined by infection, phlebitis, occlusion, or dislodgement. Outcomes were assessed by RNs in person or by telephone, if no longer hospitalized. Intention to treat analysis was performed. Definitions for failure are described below:

  • Infection – clinical impression of cellulitis or pus at IV site.
  • Phlebitis – 2 or more symptoms of pain, redness, swelling, or palpable venous cord.
  • Occlusion – inability to flush 10 mL of 0.9% saline solution or history of IV catheter removed because ‘it was not working’.
  • Dislodgement – subcutaneous extravasation or history of ‘IV fell out’.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Standard of care – securement with transparent polyurethane dressing

Figure 2

Figure 2: Skin glue group – securement with 1 drop to skin insertion site and 1 drop under IV catheter hub

Video 1: Skin glue application for securement.


  • 380 peripheral IVs inserted into 360 adult patients
  • Some differences between standard and skin glue groups- insertion sites were different between groups, which could make big difference in dislodgement rates.
  • 1° outcome: Peripheral IV failure – 17% in skin glue group, 27% in standard care group; D = -10%, 95% CI -18% to -2%, p=0.02)
  • 2° outcome: Peripheral IV failure by dislodgement – 7% in skin glue group, 14% in standard care group; D = -7%, 95% CI -13% to 0%)


  • Blinding impossible due to glue color
  • Single site, question of external validity
  • Question of generalizability as different IV insertion practices are possible (for example, almost 74% of IVs in study were inserted by physicians- can we generalize this to our hospital?)
  • It is unclear if randomization really worked given differences between standard and skin glue groups. Additionally, many potential confounders were not included or reported including BMI, co-morbidities such as end-stage renal disease, or recent ED visits/ hospitalizations with IV placement.
  • Is 48 hours an important time point for ED patients? Maybe future study should consider IV failure in ED.
  • Outcome assessment occurred by telephone, and not direct visualization by research RN, for 209 (58%) patients discharged prior to 48 hour reassessment: This is a very significant limitation as assessing IV failure via phone could lead to underreporting of failures. Authors could have considered performing a sensitivity analysis to address this.
  • Many IVs removed prior to 48 hours, therefore observed failure rates may not be accurate for 48 hours dwell time
  • No cost analysis

Author: Cameron Gettel, MD PGY1
Resident Section Editor: Adam Janicki, MD PGY4
Reviewed by Tracy Madsen, MD, ScM, Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine