Hypertonic saline for elevated ICP (Articles of the Month special edition)

In the June edition of the articles of the month, I included a paper on hypertonic saline for the treatment of traumatic brain injury. My conclusion (and that of the paper’s authors) was that hypertonic saline did not seem to provide any benefit, either in terms of mortality, or even in terms of lowering intracranial pressure. My friend Scott Weingart pointed out that the paper might not actually support that conclusion. The problem was with the studies they included in the review (which I hadn’t read myself). This is probably an excellent lesson: reviews are nice as an introduction to a topic, but expert clinical practice really requires a familiarity with the original literature. For example, there are many reviews that conclude that tPa is excellent for ischemic stroke, but… well I guess I won’t get into that here. Anyhow, I promised to read the studies on hypertonic saline in a little more depth and post an update, so that is what follows.

Continue reading “Hypertonic saline for elevated ICP (Articles of the Month special edition)”

Articles of the month (July 2015)

A monthly collection of the most interesting emergency medical literature I have encountered

Here is this month’s summary of my favorite reads from the medical literature.

Sick kids look sick

Vaillancourt S, Guttmann A, Li Q, Chan IY, Vermeulen MJ, Schull MJ. Repeated emergency department visits among children admitted with meningitis or septicemia: a population-based study. Ann Emerg Med. 2015;65:(6)625-632.e3. PMID: 25458981

This is a retrospective cohort of children 30 days to 5 years old who were hospitalized with the final diagnosis of either meningitis or septicemia. They were looking specifically at the children that had bounce backs. In total, 521 children were diagnosed with meningitis or septicemia, 114 (21.9%) of whom had been seen at a hospital in the 5 days prior to that diagnosis. The children all had similar mortality, lengths of stay, and critical care use whether you diagnosed them on the first visit or on the bounce back. Furthermore, meningitis and septicemia is very rare in pediatrics. There were a total of 511 cases in all of Ontario over the entire 5 years of this study. That is 511 out of 2,397,427 ED visits in this age group, or 0.02%, and you are only missing 20% of those on the first visit.

Bottom line: Emergency doctors are doing fine at diagnosing sick children. We don’t need fancy tests like CRPs or procalcitonins. Even if you miss the rare child, as long as you ensure good follow up, outcomes will be identical.

Green SM, Nigrovic LE, Krauss BS. Sick kids look sick. Ann Emerg Med. 2015;65:(6)633-5. PMID: 25536869

This is the excellent editorial that goes with the above paper. I just wanted to include a few quotes:

“A second explanation, simpler and more plausible, is that sepsis or meningitis was not present at the initial visit. The first diagnoses of nonserious viral or bacterial infections were not in error; however, after discharge these children had the rare misfortune of an unanticipated progression of illness.” Ie, don’t kick yourself too hard if you have a bounceback

“The study data of Vaillancourt et al suggest that, outside of the neonatal period, sepsis and meningitis are not occult conditions and that, accordingly, “sick kids look sick.” ”

“The status quo is working.”

“These results encourage emergency physicians to trust the power and value of their clinical gestalt.”

Dead? Kick him in the chest

Trenkamp RH and Perez FJ. Heel compressions quadruple the number of Bystanders who can perform chest compressions for ten minutes. Am J Emerg Med. 2015. In Print. PMID: not yet available

This is an observational study in which a convenience sample of 49 individuals, who acted as their own controls, were asked to perform 10 minutes of chest compressions, first in the standard fashion, then using their heel. They describe this process as: the shoeless rescuer straddles the patient’s head facing the patient’s feet, with one foot next to the patient’s ear and the heel of the other foot placed on the chest at the standard CPR point. (A video of this maneuver is provided.) Defining adequate compressions as 100-120 two inch compressions per minute, overall 16% were able to maintain manual compression at 10 minutes and 65% were able to do 10 minutes of heel compressions. Performance of both got worse with age.

Bottom line: If you are a lone bystander who will have to perform prolonged CPR, you might want to consider using your foot.

But might a machine be better than a kick in the chest?

Perkins GD, Lall R, Quinn T, et al. Mechanical versus manual chest compression for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (PARAMEDIC): a pragmatic, cluster randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2015;385:(9972)947-55. PMID: 25467566

This is a prospective, randomized control trial of 4471 adult patients with out of hospital cardiac arrest, comparing mechanical CPR (the LUACS-2 device) to conventional CPR. There was no difference in return of circulation, or survival to hospital, at 30 days, at 90 days, or at 1 year. Personally, I find these results confusing. Although I am always biased to assume that new technologies are not going to be better than current practice (because they so rarely are), in this case we know that the one thing that matters for survival in cardiac arrest is consistent, good chest compressions. We also know that people tire and generally don’t provide great compressions, whereas the machine never tires. Based on that theory, the machine should clearly be better. Obviously we are missing something. Maybe it takes too long to get the machine on in the first place? Maybe no technology is capable of raising people from the dead?

Bottom line: There is no benefit to mechanical CPR, so don’t go blowing your budgets yet, but they are probably as good as manual CPR, so might be useful in certain specific scenarios (ongoing chest compressions during cardiac cath?)

Did everyone invest in CT scanners when I wasn’t looking?

Zonfrillo MR, Kim KH, Arbogast KB. Emergency Department Visits and Head Computed Tomography Utilization for Concussion Patients From 2006 to 2011. Acad Emerg Med. 2015. PMID: 26111921

This is a large database study looking at CT usage in concussion from 2006 to 2011 in the US. Overall, 0.5% of ED visits ended in a diagnosis of concussion. Although you might think we all know the CT head decision rules by now, the rate of CT in concussion increased by an absolute value of 11%. Conversely, the injury severity score decreased.

Bottom line: Although I though the CAEP choosing wisely choices were incredibly weak, because they should all already be part of basic good clinical practice, I will quote their first recommendation: Don’t order CT head scans in adults and children who have suffered minor head injuries (unless positive for a head injury clinical decision rule).

Should patients on warfarin should just have a daily head CT?

Nishijima DK, Offerman SR, Ballard DW, et al. Immediate and delayed traumatic intracranial hemorrhage in patients with head trauma and preinjury warfarin or clopidogrel use. Ann Emerg Med. 2012;59:(6)460-8.e1-7. PMID: 22626015

This is a prospective observational trial of 1064 adult patients with blunt head trauma on either warfarin (768 patients) or clopidogrel (296 patients) designed to look for delayed intracranial hemorrhage. These were patients with relatively minor trauma, mostly ground level falls, and 88% having a GCS of 15 at the time of examination. 7% had a bleed on the first scan (12% if on clopidogrel and 5% on warfarin). No patients on clopidogrel and 4/687 (0.6% 95%CI 0.2-1.5%) of patients on warfarin had a delayed intracranial hemorrhage. The major limitation of this study is that not everyone had CT scans.

Bottom line: The rate of delayed intracranial hemorrhage after a normal CT is low. It almost certainly doesn’t warrant routine repeat scans or admissions, but good patient instructions and follow up are reasonable.

Diltiazem over metoprolol for atrial fibrillation. Surprised?

Fromm C, Suau SJ, Cohen V, et al. Diltiazem vs. Metoprolol in the Management of Atrial Fibrillation or Flutter with Rapid Ventricular Rate in the Emergency Department. J Emerg Med. 2015. PMID: 25913166

This is a randomized, double-blind study comparing metoprolol (0.15mg/kg) and diltiazem (0.25mg/kg) in 106 adult patients with atrial fibrillation. The primary outcome of HR<100 at 30 minutes was achieved in 95.8% of the diltiazem group and 46.4% of the metoprolol group (p<0.0001). Diltiazem was better at all time points measured. There was no difference between in groups in term of adverse outcomes (hypotension or bradycardia).

Bottom line: Another small trial illustrating that calcium channel blockers are probably more effective than beta-blockers at controlling atrial fibrillation in the ED.

This doesn’t change anything: Asymptomatic hypertension still shouldn’t be treated in the ED

Levy PD, Mahn JJ, Miller J, et al. Blood pressure treatment and outcomes in hypertensive patients without acute target organ damage: a retrospective cohort. Am J Emerg Med. 2015. PMID: 26087706

A retrospective cohort of 1016 adult patients with a blood pressure greater than 180/110 and no signs or symptoms of acute organ damage. About 43% were given some kind of treatment, and there was no difference in ED revisits or mortality whether you were treated or not. Of course, this type of association doesn’t prove anything – maybe there was a reason some people were treated and others weren’t.

Bottom line: We still shouldn’t be treating (or working up) asymptomatic hypertension in the ED.

On that note, I might as well include the ACEP clinical policy:

Wolf SJ, Lo B, Shih RD, et al. American College of Emergency Physicians Clinical Policies Committee. Clinical policy: critical issues in the evaluation and management of adult patients in the emergency department with asymptomatic elevated blood pressure. Ann Emerg Med. 2013 Jul;62(1):59-68. PMID: 23842053

A few points from this policy (the policy contains only level C recommendations):

1) In ED patients with asymptomatic markedly elevated blood pressure, routine screening for acute target organ injury (eg, serum creatinine, urinalysis, ECG) is not required.

2) In patients with asymptomatic markedly elevated blood pressure, routine ED medical intervention is not required

Bottom line: (Cut and paste from above). We still shouldn’t be treating (or working up) asymptomatic hypertension in the ED.

We no communicate so good

Newman DH, Ackerman B, Kraushar ML, et al. Quantifying Patient-Physician Communication and Perceptions of Risk During Admissions for Possible Acute Coronary Syndromes. Ann Emerg Med. 2015;66:(1)13-18.e1. PMID: 25748480

This is a great paper by David Newman. They did paired surveys of patients being admitted to rule out ACS and their treating physicians to determine if patients and their physicians were on the same page with regards to the risk of MI (the reason the patient was being admitted). After having a conversation about admission, the patient and physician estimates of risk were only within 10% of each other 36% of the time. When asked about the chance of dying if an MI occurred at home, patients estimated the mortality at 80% compared to physicians estimates at 10%.

Bottom line: We do a poor job communicating to patients why we want to admit them to hospital. Without an understanding of their risk, patients cannot possibly make informed decisions that account for their own values and personal risk tolerance.

If you aren’t using bedside ultrasound, you probably also won’t be able to find this post on the internet, but congratulations on your upcoming retirement…

Stein JC, Wang R, Adler N, et al. Emergency physician ultrasonography for evaluating patients at risk for ectopic pregnancy: a meta-analysis. Ann Emerg Med. 2010;56:(6)674-83. PMID: 20828874

This is a systematic review and meta-analysis that includes 10 studies of 2057 patients looking at the accuracy of emergency physician performed ultrasound for ectopic pregnancy. The sensitivity (patients with an ectopic who had no IUP on ultrasound) was 99.3%, with a negative predictive value of 99.9% in this population with a 7.5% incidence of ectopic pregnancy.

Bottom line: Bedside ultrasound is excellent for ruling out ectopic.

Whats the best way to keep a cast dry?

McDowell M, Nguyen S, Schlechter J. A Comparison of Various Contemporary Methods to Prevent a Wet Cast. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2014;96:(12)e99. PMID: 24951750

This non blinded trial compared six methods of keeping casts dry. There were 2 commercial products, compared to a plastic bag with duct tape, double plastic bags with duct tape, a plastic bag with a rubber band, or glad cling wrap. The weighed the cast after submerging in water for 2 minutes (so more intense than a shower) to determine water absorption. Plastic wrap and a single bag with duct tape were the least effective. A double bag with duct tape was 100% effective, as were the commercial products.

Bottom line: Of easily available methods, double plastic bags and duct tape are probably the best for showering with a cast.

Everything you could ever want to know about anal fissures

Nelson RL, Thomas K, Morgan J, Jones A. Non surgical therapy for anal fissure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;2:CD003431. PMID: 22336789

This cochrane systematic review of the medical management of anal fissures covers 75 trials and 5031 patients of different medical therapies. Topical nitroglycerin increased early cure rates from about 35% to 49% compared to placebo, an NNT of 7, but about half of patients had late relapses. No conclusions can be made about calcium channel blockers or botox, because all studies were severely under-powered. Surgical therapy (which I have never referred for) was significantly better than any medical therapy, but does have a small risk of incontinence.

Bottom line: There is poor evidence for any medical therapy. In patients with chronic problems, surgical therapy should be considered.

Your kid rolled in poison ivy – what do you do?

Stibich AS, Yagan M, Sharma V, Herndon B, Montgomery C. Cost-effective post-exposure prevention of poison ivy dermatitis. Int J Dermatol. 2000;39:(7)515-8. PMID: 10940115

I didn’t know that you could prophylactically treat poison ivy after coming into contact with the plant, but before developing a rash. 20 healthy “volunteer” medical students were used them as their own controls. They exposed the students to poison ivy at 4 different spots. 2 hours later, the applied 0.5ml of either dial dish soap, Tecnu (a commercial product designed to chemically inactivate poison ivy), or Goop (a commercial cleaning product), and then rinsed the skin. They left the 4th area untouched as a control (but for some reason didn’t even rinse it off – just left it covered.) All three products were similar, but seem to decrease severity of the rash as compared to control. Ii was unclear if the study was blinded in any way.

Bottom line: If you touch poison ivy, it may be worth putting dish soap on the area and then cleaning thoroughly.

Lidocaine for limb pain – no, not a nerve block

Vahidi E, Shakoor D, Aghaie Meybodi M, Saeedi M. Comparison of intravenous lidocaine versus morphine in alleviating pain in patients with critical limb ischaemia. Emerg Med J. 2015;32:(7)516-9. PMID: 25147364

Like low dose ketamine, although to a lesser extent, I have heard a lot about using IV lidocaine for pain control this past year. This is a small RCT of 40 patients with ischemic limbs comparing IV morphine (0.1mg/kg) and IV lidocaine (2mg/kg). In patients with pain starting at 7.5/10, pain in the lidocaine group was better at 15 minutes (5.75/10 vs 7/10) and 30 minutes (4.25/10 versus 6.5/10), although those numbers may not be clinically significant.

Bottom line: Intravenous lidocaine may be an option for pain, but I am not sure when or why I would use it.

There is no such thing is a free lunch

Solomon RC. Coffers brimming, ethically bankrupt. Ann Emerg Med. 2012;59:(2)101-2. PMID: 22078890

An older editorial, but worth a read. The summary is that although we make a lot of excuses for why we take money from drug companies, none are any good. As individuals and as a group, we must just stop.

Bottom line: I will say it again. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Patient with a PE – do you admit, send them home, or get them to the gym?

Lakoski SG, Savage PD, Berkman AM, et al. The safety and efficacy of early-initiation exercise training after acute venous thromboembolism: a randomized clinical trial. J Thromb Haemost. 2015;13:(7)1238-44. PMID: 25912176

A very small randomized, controlled trial that included 19 patients with PE, 9 of whom were randomized to a 3 month program including exercise and weight loss. They commit a cardinal sin by claiming to have multiple primary outcomes, but it looks like the exercise group lost weight and was more fit as compared to the usual care group. Of course, a grain or two of salt is required, but it looks like an interesting area for future research.

Bottom line: In the future, we may seen an equivalent to cardiac rehab for our PE patients. For now, I recommend all my patients exercise.

Completely irrelevant to medicine, but maybe the most useful information of the month: flight delays

When to fly to get there on time? Six million flights analyzed. Decision Science News. 2015.


This is a database study that looked at all the flight data in the United States for the year of 2013 to determine when you are most likely to be delayed. Not surprisingly, the later your flight is in the day, the longer a delay you can expect, until about 10pm, when the delays start to fall again. There are some graphs you can look at.

Bottom line: For the next conference you book (like say SMACC in Dublin next year), try to book your flight early in the morning if you don’t want to be delayed.

Cheesy Joke of the Month

Why can’t you tell when a pterodactyl is going to the bathroom?

Because their P is silent

FOAMed of the month

The world of critical care and open access medical education suffered an incredible loss this month with the passing of Dr. John Hinds. He was one of the most inspirational individuals I have encountered in my life, and although I only shook his hand a single time, his words have forever changed me.

It is hard to pick just one of this many incredible talks, but I know both my wife and I were blown away by his keynote speech at the SMACC conference in Chicago: “Crack the chest and get crucified”:


Articles of the month (February 2015)

A monthly collection of the most interesting emergency medical literature I have encountered

Amoxicillin is the antibiotic of choice in pediatric pneumonia

Williams DJ et al. Narrow vs broad-spectrum antimicrobial therapy for children hospitalized with pneumonia. Pediatrics. 2013 Nov;132(5):e1141-8. PMID: 24167170

This was a retrospective record review of 15,564 admitted but not critically ill pediatric patients with community acquired pneumonia. They used propensity scoring, so the results could mean anything, but kids getting amoxicillin had the same outcomes as those with broad spectrum antibiotics such as cefotaxime or ceftriaxone. In fact, IDSA and peds infectious disease society both recommend narrow spectrum antibiotics, which is contrasted to the 90% of children in this study that were given broad spectrum.

Bottom line: Amoxicillin is probably best in pediatric pneumonia.


Hans and Franz want to pump you up (steroids for pediatric asthma)

Keeney GE et al. Dexamethasone for acute asthma exacerbations in children: a meta-analysis. Pediatrics. 2014;133(3)493-9. PMID: 24515516

A meta-analysis of 6 RCTs of prednisone versus dexamethasone in children with acute asthma exacerbations. There was no difference in relapse at 5 or 30 days. The dexamethasone group was less likely to vomit, both at home and in the ED. (Some studies used 2 doses of dex, some only used 1 versus generally 5 days of prednisone.)

Bottom line: Fewer doses and less vomiting, I am sold on dexamethasone. (My wife adds: “Well Duh! Pediapred tastes like s***. Dex is less volume and way easier to take.”)


The ugly stepchild of papers 1 and 2? Steroids for pneumonia

Blum, CA et al. 2015. Adjunct prednisone therapy for patients with community-acquired pneumonia: a multicentre, double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet (January 16). PMID: 25608756

I don’t buy what they are selling here, but I have already heard about this paper from at least 10 different sources, so you will likely hear about it as well. This is a large, multi-center, double blind RCT of 781 community acquired pneumonia patients, randomized to either get or not get prednisone 50mg PO daily for 1 week. It was a positive study, in that the primary outcome “time to clinical stability”, or ‘normal vital signs’, was 3 days in the prednisone group and 4.4 days with placebo. However, as important as vital signs are, are they really a patient oriented outcome? Has a patient ever said, I know I have this pneumonia, but what I really want is for my heart rate to be 95 instead of 105? Side effects: prednisone obviously caused hyperglycemia, but also (non statistically) doubled pneumonia associated complications. Previous studies showed higher recurrence rates with steroids.

Bottom line: Of course steroids make the numbers look better, but we are probably treating the doctor and not the patient here. Not for me.

Bottom line #2: If you are going to design a study, measure outcomes that matter.


Why do we use cervical collars?

Ala’a O et al. 2015. Should suspected cervical spinal cord injury be immobilised?: A systematic review. Injury Journal. (In press). PMID: 25624270

Like many of the things we do, this practice was started based on expert opinion in the pre-EBM era. There are a large number of cadaver and volunteer studies that show that C-collars really don’t prevent movement of the c-spine. What is the clinical evidence? There are a grand total of 8 observational studies ever done. In penetrating trauma, C-collar application was associated with an increase in mortality (OR 8.8), increase scene time, and concealment of neck injuries. In blunt trauma, one study showed that immobilization was associated with worse neurological outcomes. This is balanced by no evidence of benefit. They conclude “there is a clear need for large prospective studies to determine the clinical benefit of prehospital spinal immobilsation.”

Bottom line: I can’t imagine anyone changing their practice, but this does not speak very well to the benefits of cervical spine collars


Where are you drilling? Arm might be better than leg, or go straight towards the heart

Pasely J et al. 2015. Intraosseous infusion rates under high pressure: A cadaveric comparison of anatomic sites. Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 78(2)295-9. PMID: 25757113

Its a cadaver study, so take that as you will – but I am often drilling into dead people in code situations anyhow, so there might be some external validity here. They tried to infuse saline using a pressure bag, and the rates they could get were: 94ml/min in the sternum, 57ml/min in the humerus, and 30 ml/min in the tibia.

Bottom line: Humerus seems twice as fast as the tibia, so maybe that should be our go to spot? I probably wouldn’t suggest drilling sharp things into the sternum, but some people seem to think it’s OK.


Speaking of IOs – they are fine for RSI

Barnard EBG et al. 2014. Rapid sequence induction of anaesthesia via the intraosseous route: a prospective observational study. Emerg Med J (electronic ahead of print). PMID: 24963149

OK, also not really definitive by any means. A prospective observational study, with no controls, in a military setting. 34 patients had their RSI drugs pushed through an IO, first pass success in all but 1 (97%) and that patient was intubated on the second attempt. Although no control, 97% compares well with historical controls.

Bottom line: Go ahead and give RSI drugs through an IO if that is what you have


First RCT of massive transfusion protocol

PROPPR Holcomb et al. Transfusion of Plasma, Platelets, and Red Blood Cells in a 1:1:1 vs a 1:1:2 Ratio and Mortality in Patients With Severe Trauma. The PROPPR Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2015; 313(5)471-82. PMID: 25647203

After a bunch of theoretical stuff and some observational trials, this was the first ever RCT comparing different ratios of PRBCs, FFP, and platelets in a massive transfusion protocol. They compared 1:1:1 PRBCs, FFP and platelets to 2 units of PRBCs for each 1 unit of FFP and platelet equivalent. This was a negative trial, in that there was no difference in mortality between the two groups. However, some people have argued that their goal of a 10% reduction in mortality was too high, that the non-significant trends (including a 4.3% absolutely mortality reduction) favoured the 1:1:1 group, and secondary bleeding end points also favoured the 1:1:1 group. (This study design makes the inherent assumption that some transfusion ratio is a good thing, in that they did not include a usual care arm. While this has been the trendy thing of late, it is entirely based on flawed observational studies.)

Bottom line: This study will be used to support whatever pre-existing beliefs you had on the subject.


The new AAP bronchiolitis guidelines are very nihilistic (maybe realistic?)

Ralston SL et al. 2014. Clinical practice guideline: the diagnosis, management, and prevention of bronchiolitis. Pediatrics 134(5)e1474-502. PMID 25349312

Quick summary:

Do NOT give ventolin

Do NOT give epinephrine

Do NOT give hypertonic saline (in the ED)

Do NOT give corticosteroids

Diagnosis on Hx/Px, no routine chest xrays

While these guidelines are very evidence based, my EBM self is fighting with my practical self. If there are no treatments, peds is going to have to see 30 kids a day in the ED. Should we just set aside a room for them?

Bottom line: The AAP says don’t do anything for bronchiolitic kids

Two for the price of one: pediatric head injuries aren’t cured by CT

Lee LK et al. (PECARN). Isolated loss of consciousness in children with minor blunt head trauma. JAMA Pediatrics 2014; 168(9)837-43. PMID: 25003654

This is a secondary analysis of the PECARN head injury algorithm. Although overall your chance of clinically important head injury was 2.5% with LOC and only 0.5% without, if you only had LOC and no other PECARN risk factors, your risk of a clinically important injury was the back to baseline at 0.5%.

Bottom line: Loss of consciousness, in the absence of other worrisome findings, has a low risk of clinically important injury and CT scan is unnecessary. (Look at the whole patient, not just one aspect of the history or physical.)

Dayan PS et al. (PECARN). Association of traumatic brain injuries with vomiting in children with blunt head trauma. Annals of Emergency Medicine 2014;63(6)657-65. PMID: 24559605

Another secondary analysis of the PECARN head injury algorithm. Vomiting, without any other PECARN risk factors, had an overall incidence of clinically important injury of 0.2%

Bottom line: Vomiting, in the absence of other worrisome findings, has a low risk of clinically important injury and CT scan is unnecessary. (Look at the whole patient, not just one aspect of the history or physical.)


Start sending those stroke patients to the cath lab?

After multiple negative trials in the past, we get 3 new trials on endovascular treatment of stroke. (Given that we aren’t a stroke center and this isn’t going to be a decision you will make in the ED, it is probably best to just skip to the next section. But they will be talked about at cocktail parties.)

MR CLEAN Berkhemer OA et al. A randomized trial of intraarterial treatment for acute ischemic stroke. N Engl J Med. 2015;372:(1)11-20. PMID: 25517348

RCT comparing intra-arterial treatment versus usual care in stroke patients. Good neurological outcome (MRS 0-2 at 90 days) in intra-arterial group was 32% versus only 19% in the usual care group. (These are both way worse outcomes than other stroke trials, like NINDS)

EXTEND-IA Campbell BC et al. Endovascular Therapy for Ischemic Stroke with Perfusion-Imaging Selection. N Engl J Med. 2015. (Ahead of print) PMID: 25671797

RCT (phase II trial) of patients getting TPA within 4.5 hours with a middle cerebral or internal carotid clot AND evidence of salvageable brain tissue plus or minus endovascular therapy. Was stopped early after only 70 patients (they had to screen over 7,000 patients at 10 hospitals over 2 years to find these 70 patients – so they are highly selected to say the least). There were multiple primary outcomes (bad) but importantly if you got treated 80% had good neurological improvement at 3 days, versus only 37% of those without the endovascular treatment.

ESCAPE Goyal M et al. Randomized Assessment of Rapid Endovascular Treatment of Ischemic Stroke. N Engl J Med. 2015. (Ahead of print) PMID: 25671798

RCT of patients up to 12 hours with proximal anterior circulation occlusions and evidence of good collateral flow plus or minus endovascular therapy. Also stopped early, with a total of 316 patients (wanted 500 originally). They also only managed to recruit about 1 patient a month at each of the 22 hospitals involved – so also very highly selected patients. Functional independence (MRS 0-2) at 90 days was 53% in the endovascular arm and 29% in the usual care arm.

Overall bottom line: The benefit described in these trials is impressive. They are small and all have some flaws (stopping them early probably exaggerates the benefit), but I think it is likely they represent a true benefit. However, the number of eligible patients was tiny. Maybe they have finally found the subset of stroke patients that will benefit from revascularization – like the STEMI patient in a sea of chest pains.


Dr. Oz Sucks

Korownyk C et al. Televised medical talk shows–what they recommend and the evidence to support their recommendations: a prospective observational study. BMJ 2014;349:g7346. PMID: 25520234

OK, this isn’t really all that valuable or surprising, because anyone that has ever turned on a TV realizes that Dr. Oz rarely has anything credible to say, and seems to be a lot more interested in selling snake oil than actually helping patients. But in case any one was wondering, these authors prospectively evaluated the claims made on Dr. Oz and The Doctors, and even if a single case report was counted as “evidence” only 50% of the claims made on the shows had any evidence based backing, and a full 15% were completely contradictory to available evidence.

Bottom line: Don’t get your medical advice from a TV shill


Let’s review an older one: TTM, putting dead people on ice

Nielsen N et al. Targeted temperature management at 33°C versus 36°C after cardiac arrest. N Engl J Med. 2013 369(23):2197-206. PMID: 24237006

An ‘older’ paper that I am sure everyone has heard about, but it is good to include at least one practice changing quality study every month. After 2 small, low quality studies were published in 2002 (well before I started medical school in case you were wondering), the medical world went nuts for therapeutic hypothermia. But when I started in medicine, there were still some intelligent people (like Jerry Hoffman) who tried to remind us these were small studies, with inherent biases, and that a corner stone of science is replication. (There is a lesson here for so many other topics – but I don’t think I have the balls to mention NINDS and tPA.)

So this was a large, randomized control trial (not blinded) where 950 patients with ROSC after out of hospital cardiac arrest were either brought to 33 or 36 degrees Celsius. There was no difference in outcome.

The comments about this paper have been all over the map. The favorite statement by a lot of very smart people seems to be “this confirms that we desperately need to avoid fever, but 36 degrees is probably good enough.” I would point out, this study says nothing about avoiding fever. In fact, I don’t know of any study that compared fever or no fever post cardiac arrest. So people are either expressing their left over love of hypothermia, or is basing it on animal models, which are – well animal models.

Another approach would be to ask if we have any reason to believe this would work (the beginning of Bayesian reasoning). There were some animal models that support hypothermia, but probably more important is that hypothermia has been tested in humans for a number of conditions other than cardiac arrest – and it doesn’t seem to work.

Bottom line: There is no benefit from hypothermia post cardiac arrest. No one knows much about fever, but many people will talk about it a lot.

Bonus section: This Penn and Teller vaccination video should play continusouly in the waiting room


Cheesy Joke of the Month

It was a cold February so:

What is the difference between snowmen and snowwomen?