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What's new in emergency medicine
Official reprint from UpToDate® ©2017 UpToDate®
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What's new in emergency medicine
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
Literature review current through: Feb 2017. | This topic last updated: Mar 20, 2017.

The following represent additions to UpToDate from the past six months that were considered by the editors and authors to be of particular interest. The most recent What's New entries are at the top of each subsection.


The effect of tracheal intubation on in-patients with sudden cardiac arrest (February 2017)

The appropriate role for tracheal intubation during sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) remains a source of debate. In a large multicenter cohort study comparing outcomes between intubated patients and a propensity-matched group of non-intubated patients, all of whom sustained SCA while admitted to the hospital, intubated patients had lower rates of return of spontaneous circulation, survival, and survival with good functional outcome [1]. This study provides additional evidence that tracheal intubation is best withheld until the return of spontaneous circulation following SCA, unless adequate ventilation cannot be maintained with bag-mask ventilation or a supraglottic airway. (See "Advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) in adults", section on 'Airway management while performing ACLS'.)

Emergency coronary catheterization following sudden cardiac arrest (February 2017)

Emergency coronary catheterization is indicated for patients who sustain sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and manifest signs of an acute coronary syndrome (ACS), such as ST elevation on their electrocardiogram. However, whether coronary catheterization should be performed in SCA patients without such signs remains controversial. A meta-analysis of 11 heterogeneous, retrospective studies involving several thousand patients found that over 30 percent of post-arrest patients with no ST elevation had acute coronary artery occlusions regardless of their presenting rhythm [2]. While randomized trials are needed to address this question, we believe it is reasonable to perform coronary catheterization in SCA patients without discrete signs of ACS, provided resources to do so are available. (See "Post-cardiac arrest management in adults", section on 'Coronary revascularization'.)

Determining the futility of resuscitation following cardiac arrest (December 2016)

Based on data from almost 7000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients from two large registries (Paris, France and King County, Washington State) and a major multicenter randomized trial, researchers identified three criteria (arrest not witnessed by emergency medical services personnel, non-shockable initial cardiac rhythm, and no return of spontaneous circulation prior to administration of third 1 mg dose of epinephrine) that, if all criteria were met, had a specificity and positive predictive value of essentially 100 percent for death prior to hospital discharge [3]. Of the 2800 patients evaluated who met all three criteria, only one survived. Early identification of patients with no chance for survival may be helpful in family decisions about organ donation. (See "Advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) in adults", section on 'Termination of resuscitative efforts'.)


Iloprost therapy for severe frostbite (December 2016)

For years, no effective therapy was available to prevent tissue necrosis and subsequent amputation in patients with severe frostbite, but an increasing body of evidence suggests that treatment with iloprost, a prostacyclin analog (IV formulation not available in the United States) can prevent such injury in appropriately selected patients. According to one open-label randomized trial [4], a growing number of case reports [5], and revised management recommendations from wilderness medicine experts [6], treatment with iloprost is effective and safe. We suggest treatment with iloprost (where available), with or without tPA, for patients with severe frostbite (Grade 2-4) if given within 48 hours of the initial insult. (See "Frostbite", section on 'Prostacyclin therapy for severe injury presenting within 48 hours'.)


Differences in anaphylaxis treatment by age (February 2017)

Epinephrine given by intramuscular (IM) injection is the treatment of choice for anaphylaxis, but clinicians are sometimes reluctant to administer it, particularly to older adults. In a retrospective study of nearly 500 children and adults with anaphylaxis presenting to the emergency department, patients >50 years of age were less likely to receive epinephrine (36 versus 61 percent) compared with younger patients [7]. In addition, among patients who were given epinephrine, older adults were more likely to receive excessive doses when epinephrine was administered intravenously (IV). IM epinephrine was well-tolerated by patients of all ages, while IV administration was associated with a higher rate of cardiovascular complications. These findings support our recommendations to administer epinephrine by IM injection whenever possible and reserve IV administration for refractory cases. (See "Anaphylaxis: Emergency treatment", section on 'Situations requiring caution'.)

Treatment of acute diverticulitis without antibiotics (February 2017)

Acute diverticulitis is typically treated with antibiotics. However, in a Dutch trial (DIABOLO) that randomly assigned over 500 low-risk patients with first-episode, acute, uncomplicated diverticulitis confirmed with computed tomography to either observation or antibiotic therapy, outcomes were similar for both groups [8]. Because almost all of the patients were admitted to the hospital for one or more days, this trial did not establish the safety of avoiding antibiotic therapy in low-risk outpatients. Thus, until further data become available, UpToDate continues to recommend antibiotic treatment of acute diverticulitis in patients meeting criteria for outpatient management. (See "Acute colonic diverticulitis: Medical management", section on 'Outpatient treatment' and "Acute colonic diverticulitis: Medical management".)

Rapidly progressive acute chest syndrome in sickle cell disease (February 2017)

Acute chest syndrome (ACS) in individuals with sickle cell disease (SCD) encompasses a variety of clinical presentations and severities. A distinct phenotype of ACS has been characterized, referred to as rapidly progressive ACS, in which respiratory failure occurs within 24 hours of initial respiratory symptoms [9]. In a cohort of 97 children and 76 adults with SCD and at least one prior ACS episode, rapidly progressive ACS occurred more commonly in adults than children (21 versus 2 percent). Adults with rapidly progressive ACS were more likely to have multiorgan failure compared with adults without this phenotype. The only laboratory predictor of rapidly progressive ACS was a decline in platelet count on presentation. (See "Evaluation of acute pain in sickle cell disease", section on 'Acute systemic illness, diffuse pain, or both'.)

The qSOFA prediction score and in-hospital mortality (January 2017)

Two recent studies have evaluated the quick sepsis-related organ failure assessment score (qSOFA) as a simple bedside tool to facilitate early identification of patients at risk of dying from sepsis [10,11]. In one study of patients presenting to the emergency department with suspected infection, the predictive validity of qSOFA for in-hospital mortality was similar to that of the full SOFA score [10]. In contrast, qSOFA was inferior to SOFA in a retrospective analysis of intensive care unit (ICU) patients with an infection-related diagnosis [11]. We believe that qSOFA is a valuable bedside tool in predicting death from sepsis outside the ICU. (See "Sepsis syndromes in adults: Epidemiology, definitions, clinical presentation, diagnosis, and prognosis", section on 'Identification of early sepsis (qSOFA)'.)

No benefit of hypothermia in convulsive status epilepticus (January 2017)

Convulsive status epilepticus is prolonged and refractory to standard first-line medications in approximately one-third of patients, and outcomes associated with refractory status epilepticus are often poor. Induced hypothermia has been proposed as a potential neuroprotective strategy. However, in a randomized trial of 250 critically ill adults with convulsive status epilepticus, induced hypothermia did not improve 90-day mortality, functional outcomes, or rate of progression to refractory status epilepticus when added to standard first-line therapies [12]. (See "Convulsive status epilepticus in adults: Treatment and prognosis", section on 'Others'.)

Outcomes in severe asymptomatic hypertension (hypertensive urgency) (November 2016)

There is no proven benefit from rapid reduction of blood pressure in patients with severe asymptomatic hypertension (systolic blood pressure ≥180 mmHg and/or diastolic blood pressure ≥110 mmHg). In one retrospective study of over 59,000 patients who presented in the ambulatory setting with severe asymptomatic hypertension, there was no difference in major adverse cardiovascular events, or prevalence of uncontrolled hypertension six months later, for patients sent to the emergency department or sent home from the office for outpatient blood pressure management [13]. Hospitalization rates were higher for those sent to the emergency department. This cohort study suggests that most patients with asymptomatic hypertensive urgency who present in the ambulatory setting can be managed as outpatients. (See "Management of severe asymptomatic hypertension (hypertensive urgencies) in adults", section on 'Rapidity of blood pressure lowering'.)

Syncope and pulmonary embolus (October 2016)

While pulmonary embolus (PE) has generally been considered to be a relatively rare cause of syncope, a recent study reported a 17 percent prevalence of PE among patients admitted to hospital with syncope, and a 25 percent prevalence among those without an alternative etiology for syncope [14]. Two-thirds of patients with syncope secondary to PE had thrombus located in the mainstem or lobar arteries, suggesting that syncope may indicate a high burden of thrombus. The study underscores the importance of syncope as a presenting manifestation of clinically significant PE among patients with syncope who are admitted to the hospital. The prevalence of diagnosed PE was lower (4 percent) when looking at all patients seen in the emergency department with syncope, although the total number of these patients who were assessed for PE was not reported. (See "Clinical presentation, evaluation, and diagnosis of the nonpregnant adult with suspected acute pulmonary embolism", section on 'History and examination'.)

Corticosteroids not beneficial in severe sepsis without shock (October 2016)

The administration of corticosteroids to patients with sepsis is generally reserved for those with septic shock. A recent randomized trial of nearly 400 adults examined the efficacy of corticosteroids in patients with severe sepsis who did not have shock [15]. Compared with placebo, an infusion of hydrocortisone (200 mg daily for five days followed by tapering until day 11) had no effect on mortality or progression to shock. This trial supports our current recommendation that corticosteroids not be routinely administered to septic patients without shock. (See "Glucocorticoid therapy in septic shock", section on 'HYPRESS'.)

Oxygenation goals in critically ill patients (October 2016)

The optimal level of oxygenation in mechanically ventilated patients is unknown. A recent randomized trial reported that, compared with a conventional approach to oxygenation (partial arterial pressure of oxygen [PaO2] up to 150 mmHg or peripheral arterial oxygen saturation [SpO2] 97 to 100 percent), a conservative approach (PaO2 70 to 100 mmHg or SpO2 94 to 98 percent) resulted in lower mortality and fewer episodes of shock, liver failure, and bacteremia [16]. However, these preliminary results should be confirmed by a larger multicenter trial before a conservative approach to oxygenation should be routinely adopted for mechanically ventilated patients. (See "Overview of mechanical ventilation", section on 'Fraction of inspired oxygen'.)

Safety of magnetic resonance imaging and gadolinium in pregnancy (September 2016)

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used for diagnostic imaging in pregnancy when ultrasound examination is inadequate; however, fetal safety has not been conclusively established. Recently, the largest study of MRI in pregnancy (over 1700 exposed and 1.4 million unexposed births) reported that first-trimester MRI was not associated with significantly increased risks for stillbirth, neonatal death, congenital anomaly, neoplasm, or vision or hearing loss in children followed up to age four years, when adjustments were made for differences between exposure groups [17]. The study also found that gadolinium exposure at any time during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk for stillbirth and neonatal death. Children exposed in utero were at increased risk for rheumatological, inflammatory, or infiltrative skin conditions, but not congenital anomalies or nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF). This study is a major addition to the body of evidence supporting the safety of MRI in pregnancy when medically indicated. It also provides the first data supporting existing recommendations to avoid use of gadolinium-based contrast agents in pregnant women, when possible. (See "Diagnostic imaging procedures during pregnancy", section on 'Magnetic resonance imaging'.)


Safety and efficacy of nonoperative treatment of pediatric appendicitis (March 2017)

In a meta-analysis of 10 studies that provided outcomes for over 400 children undergoing nonoperative treatment (antibiotics without immediate surgery) of early, uncomplicated appendicitis, initial treatment was effective in 97 percent of patients and was associated with no appendectomy at reported follow-up in 82 percent of patients [18]. Complications and total length of hospital stay appeared similar during follow-up for nonoperative treatment and appendectomy. Although appendectomy remains the treatment of choice for most children with early, uncomplicated appendicitis, nonoperative management is an alternative option in selected patients based upon caregiver preference. Additional studies are needed to determine which patients are least likely to fail nonoperative treatment. (See "Acute appendicitis in children: Management", section on 'Nonoperative management'.)

Early initiation of heated humidified high-flow nasal cannula therapy in children with bronchiolitis (February 2017)

In an open randomized trial comparing heated humidified high-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) with standard low-flow oxygen therapy in 200 children with moderately severe bronchiolitis, early initiation of HFNC did not shorten the median duration of oxygen therapy (approximately 22 hours in both groups) [19]. However, HFNC was associated with avoidance of intensive care unit admission when it was used as a rescue therapy for clinical deterioration in children treated with standard therapy. No serious adverse effects occurred. These findings provide additional support for HFNC as a rescue therapy in children with bronchiolitis, although the efficacy of this approach remains unproven. (See "Bronchiolitis in infants and children: Treatment, outcome, and prevention", section on 'HFNC and CPAP'.)

Risk of recurrence in anaphylaxis in children (January 2017)

Individuals who experience an initial episode of anaphylaxis are at risk for subsequent episodes. In the first prospective study to assess the risk of recurrent anaphylaxis, nearly 300 children treated for anaphylaxis (mostly food-induced) in the emergency department were followed for one year, during which 18 percent suffered another episode [20]. Concomitant asthma and treatment of the initial episode with epinephrine were associated with an increased risk of recurrence. These results highlight the importance of prompt intervention (equipping patients/caregivers with epinephrine autoinjectors and referring to an allergist) after the initial episode. (See "Anaphylaxis: Emergency treatment", section on 'Risk of recurrence'.)

Duration of treatment for acute otitis media in children younger than two years (January 2017)

Methodologic limitations in previous studies evaluating duration of treatment for acute otitis media (AOM) in young children were addressed in a trial that randomly assigned more than 500 infants and young children (age 6 through 23 months) with strictly defined AOM to treatment with amoxicillin-clavulanate for 10 days or 5 days; those assigned to 5 day treatment received an additional 5 days of placebo [21]. The 10-day group had lower rates of clinical failure (16 versus 34 percent) without more adverse events. These findings support a standard 10-day course of antimicrobial therapy for AOM in children <2 years. (See "Acute otitis media in children: Treatment", section on 'Duration of therapy'.)

FDA issues warning about anesthesia for pregnant patients and children under three years of age (December 2016)

The US Food and Drug Administration has warned about potential negative effects on the developing brain from administration of anesthetics and sedatives to pregnant women and children under age three, especially for repeated exposures or procedures lasting more than three hours [22]. However, the degree of risk remains unclear. A single, brief exposure to anesthesia probably does not cause neurotoxicity in healthy young children. Further study is required to determine the effects of prolonged or repeated anesthetics, variability among anesthetic agents and combinations of drugs, and patient factors that may confer vulnerability to anesthetic neurotoxicity. At present, there is no compelling evidence that any specific anesthetic agent should be avoided during pregnancy or in young children, or that necessary surgery should be delayed because of concerns about neurotoxicity. (See "Management of the pregnant patient undergoing nonobstetric surgery", section on 'Fetal brain development'.)

Bag urine specimen testing to determine the need for urine culture in children (October 2016)

A bag urine specimen for a screening urine dipstick and/or urinalysis may prevent the need for a catheterized urine culture in selected patients older than 6 months of age at low risk for a urinary tract infection (UTI). In an observational study of over 800 previously healthy, well-appearing children 6 to 24 months of age presenting to a pediatric emergency department for evaluation of fever, screening of urine obtained by a bag specimen reduced the number of subsequent urine cultures obtained by bladder catheterization from 63 to 30 percent without prolonging the length of stay or increasing rates of revisits or missed UTI [23]. Although potentially helpful for urine screening tests, bag urine samples should not be routinely used to obtain urine samples for culture, especially in situations where contamination of the specimen will complicate further management (eg, young infants or ill-appearing patients who warrant empiric parenteral antibiotics). (See "Urine collection techniques in infants and children with suspected urinary tract infection", section on 'Specimen for urine dipstick or urinalysis'.)

Multidisciplinary approach to children and adolescents with persistent concussion symptoms (September 2016)

For patients with prolonged post-concussion symptoms, a multidisciplinary approach that includes mental health care by a psychologist or psychiatrist is associated with better outcomes. In a randomized trial of 49 children and adolescents (11 to 17 years of age) with persistent symptoms for one month or longer after a sports-related concussion, collaborative treatment consisting of care management, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and, when needed, psychopharmacologic consultation was associated with significant reductions in postconcussive and depression symptoms at six months when compared to usual treatment [24]. (See "Concussion in children and adolescents: Management", section on 'Persistent symptoms'.)

Extended- versus narrower-spectrum antibiotics for prophylaxis of appendicitis in children (September 2016)

Prophylactic antibiotics in children undergoing surgery for appendicitis reduce postoperative complications. The optimal regimen (extended-spectrum antibiotics [eg, piperacillin and tazobactam] versus other narrower-spectrum antibiotics [eg, cefoxitin or ceftriaxone and metronidazole]) is unclear, although extended-spectrum antibiotics are favored by the American Pediatric Surgical Association for treatment of complicated appendicitis. In an observational study of almost 25,000 children with appendicitis, there was no benefit shown for empiric use of extended- over narrower-spectrum antibiotics [25]. Among the 18,000 children with uncomplicated appendicitis, of whom one-third received extended-spectrum antibiotics (primarily piperacillin and tazobactam), treatment failure, defined as readmission within 30 days related to a complication of appendicitis, occurred in approximately 1 percent of the patients and was not reduced with use of extended-spectrum antibiotics. Among the 7000 children with complicated appendicitis, of whom two-thirds received extended-spectrum antibiotics, treatment failure occurred in approximately 6 percent of patients and was increased with use of extended-spectrum antibiotics. It is uncertain from the observational study design whether this association was due to confounding; sicker children may have received the extended-spectrum antibiotics, although the investigators attempted to adjust for this propensity. Clinical trials are needed to determine the best antibiotic regimen for children undergoing surgery for appendicitis. (See "Acute appendicitis in children: Management".)


Tracheal intubation and survival following in-hospital pediatric cardiac arrest (November 2016)

In a retrospective observational study of over 2200 United States children younger than 18 years of age with in-hospital cardiac arrest reported to a centralized registry from 2000 to 2014, tracheal intubation during cardiac arrest was associated with a significantly lower adjusted survival to hospital discharge compared with a propensity-matched cohort of patients who were not intubated (36 versus 41 percent, respectively) [26]. There was no significant difference in return of spontaneous circulation or favorable neurologic outcome between the groups. Although confounding cannot be fully excluded given the study design, this evidence suggests that the emphasis on early tracheal intubation during pediatric in-hospital cardiac arrest warrants re-examination and further study. (See "Pediatric basic life support for health care providers", section on 'Epidemiology and survival'.)


Ultrasound to improve the success rate of lumbar puncture in young infants (February 2017)

Ultrasound has been proposed as a means to increase the success rate of lumbar puncture (LP) in infants. In a small, unblinded trial of 43 young infants undergoing LP in the emergency department, ultrasound-assisted LP was associated with a significantly higher rate of success compared with the landmark technique [27]. We suggest that when equipment and properly trained providers are available, ultrasound guidance be used to identify the best site and safest depth for LP in young infants. (See "Lumbar puncture: Indications, contraindications, technique, and complications in children", section on 'Ultrasound guidance'.)

Ketofol versus propofol for procedural sedation (December 2016)

Ketofol, a combination of ketamine and propofol, is purported to provide good conditions while reducing harmful side effects during procedural sedation and analgesia (PSA) performed outside the operating room, but studies to date have failed to identify clinically significant differences between ketofol and propofol alone. These findings were confirmed in a randomized, multicenter trial involving over 500 patients receiving PSA that reported no significant differences in the rate of adverse respiratory events (oxygen desaturation, apnea, or hypoventilation) between those managed with ketofol or propofol [28]. While multiple studies confirm that ketofol is safe and effective, there is no convincing evidence that it improves clinically significant outcomes or reduces important (albeit rare) complications during PSA compared with propofol. (See "Procedural sedation in adults outside the operating room", section on 'Ketamine and propofol (ketofol)'.)


Mass intoxication with unusual clinical effects after exposure to a unique synthetic cannabinoid (January 2017)

Based upon reports to regional poison control centers, the most common effects after inhalation or insufflation of synthetic cannabinoids include vomiting, tachycardia, and agitation. However, mass exposure of 33 adults to burning incense containing methyl 2-(1-(4-fluorobenzyl)-1H-indazole-3-carboxamido)-3-methylbutanoate (AMB-FUBINACA, street name AK-47 24 Karat Gold) caused intoxication characterized by lethargy, blank staring, “zombie-like” groaning, and slow mechanical movements of the arms and legs [29]. This report emphasizes that synthetic cannabinoids have a wide spectrum of clinical effects that vary according to the compound used. Furthermore, this is the first report of mass intoxication caused by burning of adulterated incense. (See "Synthetic cannabinoids: Acute intoxication", section on 'Clinical manifestations'.)


CT to rule out cervical spine injury following blunt trauma (February 2017)

Although patients who have sustained major trauma or are at high risk for cervical spinal column injury routinely undergo computed tomography (CT) scan of the entire cervical spine, the appropriate role for CT in patients with less severe trauma who cannot be cleared clinically of cervical spine injury and require imaging remains unclear. In a prospective, multicenter observational study involving over 10,000 patients with blunt trauma who did not meet the NEXUS criteria for clinical clearance of the cervical spine, CT was found to be highly sensitive and specific for clinically significant injury of the cervical spine [30]. Of the three false negative CT studies, all involved patients with focal neurologic findings identified during their initial examination that were consistent with central cord syndrome. CT is an accurate and useful method for assessing patients at risk for cervical spine injury following less severe trauma, particularly if plain radiographs are expected to be difficult to interpret. (See "Evaluation and acute management of cervical spinal column injuries in adults", section on 'CT for cervical spinal column injury'.)

Early physical activity following acute concussion in children and adolescents (January 2017)

Although physical rest is routinely recommended after concussion, there are few data to determine whether avoidance of physical activity hastens recovery. In a prospective, multicenter cohort study of over 2400 children who were diagnosed with an acute concussion during an emergency department visit, early physical activity (within seven days of injury) compared with physical rest was associated with a significantly reduced risk of persistent postconcussive symptoms (PPCS) at 28 days [31]. However, the difference in PPCS may be the result of confounding, and clinical trials are needed to confirm this result. We suggest that children and adolescents with concussions adhere to full physical rest until they have no symptoms of concussion (table 1) and normal balance or return to baseline on standardized testing. In the minority of patients with prolonged symptoms beyond seven days after injury, we introduce light, subsymptom threshold aerobic exercise (eg, light stationary bicycling), which can often be tolerated and may improve symptoms. (See "Concussion in children and adolescents: Management", section on 'Physical rest'.)

Outpatient management of children with isolated basilar skull fractures (October 2016)

Children with isolated basilar skull fractures typically do well. In a study of over 250 children with isolated basilar skull fractures on computed tomography (CT) of the head and normal neurologic status during emergency department evaluation for head injury, none died or went on to need neurosurgical or intensive care intervention [32]. These findings support outpatient management of children with CT evidence of isolated basilar skull fractures, a normal neurologic examination, and no progression of symptoms during emergency department observation as long as they have a reliable caregiver and ensured follow-up with a neurosurgeon. (See "Skull fractures in children: Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and management", section on 'Basilar skull fractures'.)

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