To POCUS or not to POCUS… No, that is NOT the question! #FOAMed, #FOAMus, #FOAMer

So a few weeks ago I got into some twitter debates after I – not uncharacteristically – stated that, in my opinion, practicing acute care today without using/learning POCUS  is unethical. Now I was hasty, and, in my wording did not exclude those docs who simply do not have access to the technology, and I apologize for that. For the rest, however, I totally stand by my words.

So there was a bunch of smart people who exhibited the monosynaptic reflex of asking for the evidence, the studies, or else brandishing some that showed that some aspect or other of POCUS is flawed, or some anecdote about misdiagnoses, bla, bla, bla…

Now this time, I’m going to start the discussion with the bottom line, in a sense, and leave the nitty gritty for later (which is actually the most important part, tho). But here it is:

Unless you think that the addition of ultrasonography cannot perform more accurate and rapid diagnoses than you can with your inspection/palpation/percussion/auscultation, you cannot rule against POCUS. 

Now if you actually believe that, the corollary would be to never ask for an echocardiogram, abdo-pelvic ultrasound, etc… Not too many takers. Thats what I thought.

What you can challenge, however, is the process of POCUS, meaning how do you get Dr. John Doe competent enough to make a call of pathology X (for the diagnostic aspect) and how do we clinically integrate and act on the POCUS findings, many of them being “new” from increased sensitivity, what do they mean, what does their evolution mean? Many good questions there.

That’s why I lament the entire debate around POCUS. These smart people should focus their neurons on helping us fine-tune POCUS instead.  POCUS is a huge, exploding field. I’m pretty POCUS-comfortable, but don’t ask me to start looking at bones and tendons and ligaments and a myriad of other applications. There’s not much in the body we can’t get some ultrasound into, so all those represent areas of additional information to be assessed.

The education process is also clearly in need. I’m on a panel of the Quebec College of Physicians whose mission is to put some parameters around POCUS. There’s no holding it back, it’s just about getting it going in the right direction.

It’s like anything else in medicine. We have no perfect tools, because we are working with a hypercomplex system with many variables.

And speed. Anyone interested can scan thru the POCUS cases on my blog, and what you see every time is the speed and accuracy that POCUS brings. Studies are hard, and complex. POCUS is not a single intervention, so measuring impact is difficult. Let’s say we have a septic patient with an obstructed kidney. POCUS will assess the hemodynamics, guide fluid resuscitation and inotrope use, but also find the probable source quickly, then perhaps make sure there is no gastric distension prior to intubation, confirm ETT and CVC placement, and more as the evolution goes. How do you make an RCT around that?  It is, however, a good idea to validate every aspect (which has essentially been done already, but certainly there is more to do).

Sadly, most of the naysayers, in my experience, are not echo-competent and likely don’t want to feel like med students all over again, learning a complex skill from scratch, and instead are crossing their fingers hoping that somehow, ultrasonography will be discredited… Yup, it’s not just a river in Egypt.

POCUS is a work in progress. It won’t go away. Hop on and give us a hand. Your patients will benefit.




Bedside Ultrasound Quiz Part 1: a 50 yr old man with dyspnea, acidosis, hepatitis and leg edema. #FOAMed, #FOAMer, #FOAMus

So last night, an interesting call from the ED about a 50 year old man who presented with a 3 week history of increasing dyspnea, leg edema, temp of 39,  a lactate of 3.9, an INR of 1.7, elevated LFTs and a WBC of 18, but a BP of 130/75.

Fortunately, I was dealing with a saavy ER doc with some POCUS capabilities, so he also told me he saw a pretty big IVC and he was a bit leery about giving fluids, though this looked like pretty severe sepsis with 3 or 4 affected organ systems…

So I asked him to hold fluids until I got there. Here is what POCUS found:

He revealed a past history of untreated hypertention, and a flu-like illness 3-4weeks ago.

What’s the diagnosis (-es) and management?

Answers & Clinical evolution in part 2 tomorrow!













Hepatic Portal Venous Gas (HPVG): a Less Ominous Sign than We Thought? A Case of HPVG associated with massive PE… #FOAMed, #FOAMcc

So a few years ago I had a patient in the ICU, post op for some abdominal surgery, and, using POCUS, I detected a hyper echoic area in the liver, in a wedge shape.  I scanned the patient and, lo and behold, there was a matching area of air-filled hepatic venous sinuses on CT scan. Well, my surgical colleague and I were very concerned and proceeded to inform the patient he would be needing exploratory surgery for what was likely ischémie bowel. He essentially – though in more polite words – told us we were idiots and that his belly felt fine and he didn’t think surgery would be needed at all.

His belly did feel fine. So were his labs. So we worried, but, given this whole thing about free will and consent, etc, couldn’t very well force him into what we felt was necessary surgery.

The next day he was fine. On POCUS, the area of air had shrunk. The next day, it was gone altogether.

We thanked him for his keen clinical acumen and for teaching us a good lesson.

However, we were a bit perplexed, because traditional teaching equated portal venous air with a severe bowel disorder, usually ischemic or inflammatory, with exceedingly high mortality. At least that is what we had been fed. We are both grads of 1999. Hmmm…

So over the next few years we saw a few of these cases, sometimes bad, sometimes not, and a review of the literature (see below)  showed an interesting evolution of the disease. Described in the 1950’s on plain films, hepatic air was a bad omen indeed, with mortality in the 75-90% range. In the CT era, the mortality started to “drop” to the 35-60% range. Now you can find quite a few reports of “surprisingly” good outcomes with conservative management. So this evolution doesn’t represent a change in severity so much as the technological capability to detect smaller and smaller amounts of air in the venous system – just increased sensitivity. And now, with POCUS – ultrasound is the most sensitive detector of air in a vascular tree – the associated mortality is likely to take another drop, not only because of our ability to detect very small amounts of air, but also because we are actually looking at the area, and also in a wider range of patient’ pathologies that those commonly associated with HPVG.


Clinical Case: HPVG and PE!

So a couple weeks ago I saw a patient in the ED who’d recently broken an ankle, had her foot put in a boot and managed conservatively and came back dyspneic and tachycardic. Here are a couple of clips:

As always, I start with the IVC:

Big & fixed.

Hepatic veins:

Biphasic flow.

Femoral veins:

So here the source of the problem is pretty clear, a large common femoral DVT.

She wasn’t very echogenic so I don’t have great clips of the heart but she had a dilated and hypocontractile RV with a McConnell’s sign (preserved apical contraction), small and hyper dynamic LV with septal flattening.

Now here is where it gets interesting, the portal vein:

You can clearly see bubbles traveling up the portal vein. Ominous, or not?

So clinically, her abdomen was normal, she had no abdominal symptomatology at all…


Pathophysiological musings:

So the severe RV obstruction resulted in significant venous congestion. Additionally, the decreased cardiac output – as manifested by a lactate of 4 and mild tachycardia/hypotension (110 HR, BP sys 90’s) was clear.

The etiology of HPVG in the literature isn’t clear – mucosal disruption, bacterial gas are all mentioned but as far as I could find, no definitive answer.

Is it possible that there is a “normal” inward leak of mucosal gas that is normally fully dissolved in the venous bloodstream, but that, in cases of low flow and/or venous congestion, the dissolution capacity (per unit time) decreases, and that gas comes out of solution?  Alternately, those who have increased intraluminal pressure (gastric distension, etc), the increased transmembrane gas driving pressure may overload an adequate blood flow…

This would explain the benign course of many patients, particularily those with gastric dilation.


Clinical course:

Based on hemodynamics, tachypnea and, to some degree, venous congestion, I decided to thrombolyse her using 1/2 dose lytics. Within a couple of hours her HR decreased to the 90’s and BP rose to 110 systolic.  Echographically, however, the IVC/RV findings remained similar, but the HPVG decreased. By the next day, HPVG was altogether gone, lactate had resolved and dyspnea was significantly better.


Take Home Message:

HPVG, although not quite as poor a prognostic sign as once thought, nonetheless warrants concern and investigation, even if the abdominal exam is entirely normal and without symptomatology, as correction of an underlying cause of “benign” HPVG (whether low-flow or bowel distension) would still need to be addressed.

In the meantime, I suspect that, reported or not, this has been noted by other POCUS enthusiasts, since we are now looking more frequently at this area, and are dealing with patients with low-flow states, congestion, bowel obstruction/ileus or more than one of these.

Hopefully some investigators will take a look at this phenomenon and delineate the pathophysiological mechanism!

Love to hear of your experience with this.




For those interested in POCUS, see here for a quick read primer on clinical applications of POCUS.


HPVG Review article 2009:



Wicked Clinical Case: POCUS & Prone save the day! #FOAMed, #FOAMcc, #FOAMer

So I get a call from a colleague in the ED at about 2am, telling me about a 39 yr old woman post-arrest. So I start putting on my boots and warming up the car (it’s January in Montreal folks).  Apparently she had presented earlier in severe acidosis, the diagnosis is unclear, but she apparently got 2 units for an Hb of 49, then went into respiratory failure and got intubated. She arrested about 30 minutes later, cause unknown.

I tell the ICU to prepare a bed but I want to see her in the ED first. Twenty minutes later I put probe to patient and see a full IVC with spontaneous echo contrast. On that I tell the nurse to hold the fluids – there was a bag and tubing and a pump with 100ml/hr on it – and turn into a subxiphoid view to see a normal RV and a hypokinetic LV with some WMAs. She has marked consolidations  in both posterior lung fields and B lines laterally, with small effusions and dynamic air bronchograms (indicating patent airways). At this point she has a HR of about 120, but there is neither perceptible BP (by NIBP) nor saturation. She’s on levophed at 20mcg. She’s about an hour post arrest which was witnessed and brief (<10min to ROSC).

The theories about the arrest are possible hyperkalemia: she was intubated with succinylcholine before the K of 6.1 was back from the lab, and her pre-intubation pH was 7.0, and post-intubation she was only ventilated at 400 x 18, possibly precipitating a drop in pH and a rise in K. Her EKG had some nonspecific signs at this point, but also a poor anterior R wave.

So we head to the ICU, as instrumentation was needed. Cerebral saturation (SctO2) is 42% and ETCO2 is 20mmhg, which reassures me that the BP is probably in the measurable range (normal SctO2 is >60% and varies, but 47% is certainly viable)…  A jugular CVC with continuous ScVo2 and a femoral arterial line goes in:


So with a BP of 59/44 (ignore the 100/46, not sure whose arm that was on!) I start epinephrine, as the POCUS is similar, as I want some added beta-agonism. ScVO2 matches SctO2 in the 40’s. We get the BP up the the 90-1oo range, the ETCO2 goes to 30, the SctO2 and ScVo2 go up into the high 40’s, which is very reassuring, because with this I know that my epi drip is improving perfusion and NOT over-vasoconstricting. Without looking at a real-time tissue perfusion index of some sort or other, it is nearly impossible to know rapidly whether your therapy is helping or harming (will discuss tissue saturation & resuscitation monitoring in more detail in another post sometime soon).


So now the sat finally starts to record in the low 60’s. We have a PEEP of 5, so start bringing it up. We hit 16 before the BP starts to drop, and that only gets us to the mid 70’s sat%. She actually squeezes my hand to command.


At this point I take a few seconds to recap in my mind. I’d spoken to the husband briefly and she had had recurrent episodes of feeling unwell with headache, nausea and diaphoresis, and that had been out for dinner earlier and she felt fine until later in the evening when this came on and eventually brought her to hospital. There was also a notion of hypertension at an ER visit a couple of weeks ago. Her history was otherwise not significant. Nonsmoker.

Pheo? Maybe, but shock?  I repeat the EKG, and now, in I and AVL, there is perhaps a 1mm ST elevation. She’s 39 and essentially dying. Lactate comes back >15, pH 6.9.  I give her a few more amps of NaHCO3. You can see the BP respond to each amp. I decide we need to go to the cath lab and get the cardiologist on call to get on the horn with the interventional team at a nearby hospital with a cath lab and ECMO, which is what I think she needs. Hb comes back at 116, making that initial 49 that prompted 2 PRBCs probably a technical or lab error…very unfortunate. There are no visible signs of significant bleeding.

But back to the patient, because this isn’t really a transferrable case.

Recap: a 39yr old woman in cardiogenic shock AND in severe congestive heart failure exacerbated by fluids and packed red cells, with a PO2 in the 40’s and sat in the 70’s.

So I decide to prone her.


Along with draining tamponades, this had to be one of the most rapid and rewarding maneuvers I’ve done. There was a scry drop of sat to the 40’s for a few seconds (may have been a technical thing), but then within a few minutes: BP to the 130’s, SctO2 to 59% and sat 100%!




We dropped the vasopressors, the FiO2, and all breathed a collective sigh of relief. Now for the novices out there, prone ventilation improves VQ mismatch by moving perfusion from diseased, posterior lung fields to now-dependant, relatively healthy, anterior lung fields.

So transfer at this point was in the works. I planned to leave her prone until the last minute. The miraculous effect started to slowly wane within about 30 minutes, with sat and BP creeping down. At the time of transfer, we were back up to 80% FiO2.

So why is this?  Simple enough, this being simple pulmonary edema – rather than consolidated pneumonia – it migrated to dependent areas  relatively quickly. This was confirmed by a quick POCUS check:screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-10-48-06-pmscreen-shot-2017-01-05-at-10-48-26-pm

So in the still shots, you see a pristine “A” profile (normal, no edema) from the patient’s back, and a severe consolidation or “C” profile with ultrasound bronchograms in the antero-lateral (now dependant) chest. Impressive. (for those wanting some POCUS pearls see other posts and here). This is the reverse of her initial POCUS exam.

So we flipped her back and transported her – lights & sirens – the the cath lab, where they were waiting with ECMO cannulae. As an aside, it was quite refreshing to speak to the ICU fellow who spoke POCUS as well as french and english – it’s not usually the case, but I’m glad to see the change. I do believe it to be a direct effect of the influence of my friend and mentor, Dr. Andre Denault, one of the POCUS deities.

So she turned out to have a normal cath and a large adrenal mass. She did well on ECMO, being weaned off it today, and is now alpha-blocked and waiting for surgery, neurologically intact for all intents and purposes. A big thanks to the interventionists and the ICU team at the Montreal Heart Institute. Puts a smile on my face.


Take Home Points:

  1. don’t resuscitate without POCUS. I wouldn’t want anyone guessing with my life on the line, would you?
  2. keep pheo in mind as a cause of “acute MI” and shock
  3. if you’re not using some form of realtime monitor of perfusion (continuous CO, SctO2, ETCO2, ScvO2) then all you’ve got is looking at the skin and mentation, so you are essentially flying blind. Lactate and urine output are not realtime in real life.
  4. get ECMO in the house, it’ll come in handy. I’m working on it.


Love to hear some comments!





ps I’ll try to add more ultrasound clips from this case in the next few days.

Transpulmonary Pressure (Ptp)-Guided Ventilation: A Case. #FOAMed, #FOAMcc

So in my last post I quickly reviewed the basics of Ptp-guided ventilation. So here is a case. We had a woman in her 60’s admitted with bilateral pneumonia, intubated and ventilated. She is morbidly obese and diabetic. Despite antibiotics and usual care, she was getting progressively worse, and was labelled “ARDS.”  POCUS showed she was not in terrible venous congestion, and she had been digressed to a relatively normal IVC. Slowly her ventilator settings crept up to a PEEP of 14 and FiO2 of 100%. As the plateau pressures were approaching 35, we were getting a little antsy, so decided to put in the esophageal balloon and get a better grip as to what was going on.

Here are her original readings:


So here we can see that her Pes in expiration is around 23. With a PEEP at 15, that gives us a Pep (exp) of -8. That likely represents a fair bit of atelectasis/derecruitment. Here are some measurements:



Her dynamic compliance is 21, and static 24. Not too great. Her PV loops are interesting, certainly not showing any over distension (the penguin beak look), and, as Jon Emile Kenny (@heart_lung) cleverly explains about the Pop tracing:

“On this patient, the stress index appears to be low, which is somewhat consistent with your Ptp tracing. there is a terminal fall in the Ptp [wave looks like an upside down U] which suggests terminal airway recruitment; that is, during the terminal portion of the breath, the Ptp is falling with equivalent volume delivered [again only works with square-wave/constant flow]. in other words, if [at the end of the breath] less Ptp is needed to accommodate equivalent flow/volume, there is terminal increase in compliance/decrease in elastance – or lung units are recruitedSo these numbers suggest that there is extrinsic compression of the lung, due to chest wall weight and abdominal pressure. This makes the airway pressure (Paw) not representative of alveolar stretch, and hence not a good guide of ventilation. The PEEP, despite being fairly high, is below the level needed to prevent atelectasis.”

Indeed Jon, that appears to be the case.

So we started to raise the PEEP, trying to get the Ptp (exp) closer to zero:





So we can see that our Ptp (exp) is approaching zero, and the PV loops suggest there is still no over distension. In fact, the compliance, as Jon had predicted, improves slightly. The plateau pressures are up into the mid 40’s which, without a balloon, would be pretty concerning. But the Ptp (insp) is less worrisome, in the mid 20’s, about at the limit we’d like.

At this point, still seeing that increasing compliance, we continue raising the PEEP to 23, and actually see the plateau pressures start to drop, consistent with having recruited lung. Now the Ptp (insp) is 23, and the compliances have increased.




We thus leave things as is, and by the next morning, we are down to 30% FiO2. Here are the before and after CXRs:


So a fair bit of her “ARDS” was actually atelectasis related to obesity and increased intra-abdominal pressure, and that what seems like exceedingly high PEEP is actually just enough to prevent atelectasis.


Love to hear from others who use the technology, or just interested!





N=1 Principle in ARDS and esophageal pressure directed mechanical ventilation. #FOAMed, #FOAMcc

So i recently came across a review on esophageal pressure-guided ventilation in ARDS, which is in fact a technology I’ve had in my shop since 2008, but rarely use.

The truth is that I haven’t seen much “ARDS” in the last years, and I believe quite strongly that this reflects simply our hospital’s increased awareness of the nocive effects of over-zealous fluid resuscitation. Although in the ICU we still admit patients who, in our opinion, have received a bit more fluid than they should have, we have become more aggressive with diuresis “despite” the presence of shock, and usually see “ARDS” resolve. This is a direct consequence of actually “looking” at our patients’ volume status using ultrasound (for more see, well…most other posts on this blog!).

However, what seems like genuine ARDS does come around once in a while, and we recently had severe respiratory failure develop in a morbidly obese patient, and all of a sudden, in the presence of an FiO2 of 100%, a PEEP of 14, intra-abdominal pressures between 20 and 25, and on Flo-Lan, it seemed it might be a good idea to tailor ventilation.

Current Practice:

The most common practice currently is the ARDSnet type low volume (5-7ml/kg) lung protective ventilation, using a PEEP/FiO2 scale and aiming for plateau pressures (Pplat) below 30. Generally speaking a good idea, but one has to understand that this is, once again, a one-size-fits-all (except for the per kg) approach, which isn’t ideal if you try to follow  the N=1 Principle.

Why is this?  Because, due to physical characteristics (obesity, chest wall stiffness, etc,) and pathology (increased abdominal pressure, etc), the airway pressure reflects the respiratory system pressure (Prs) rather than the transpulmonary pressure (Ptp), which is the variable most related to volutrauma (which has eclipsed barotrauma as the mechanism for most ventilator-induced lung injury (VILI).  Ptp essentially relates to overdistension, which is what results in pneumothoraces. In terms of parenchymal micro-injury, it seems to be most related to atelectrauma, in essence the opening and closing of alveoli, with the resultant shear forces disrupting surfactant and cell surface. This type of injury relates best to finding optimal PEEP to both recruit and prevent de recruitment – in effect minimizing the amount of lung tissue collapsing and reopening.


Esophageal pressure (Pes)-guided Practice:

So Pes is used as a measure of pleural pleural pressure, and:

Ptp = Paw – Pes

That equation is the central tenet to this, and basically, you have to reset your goals to:

a. Ptp (exp) around zero – optimal PEEP – (meaning no over distension and no de-recruitment)

b. Ptp (insp) below 25 – though this is not really individualized as a hard data point, but has been shown to be a reasonable cutoff for volutrauma.


How do you do this?

By slipping in a special oro/naso-gastric tube with a balloon connected to the ventilator, one is able to simultaneously measure airway pressure (as is standardly done) and esophageal pressure. This is what it looks like:


Here we can see that this patient has a PEEP of 20 (top), a Pes of about the same, and thus a Ptp (bottom) near zero.

We’ll discuss this case hopefully tomorrow, but just to show the mechanics/technique of it.


Bottom Line:

So this involves tossing out the ARDSnet charts and trying to individualize and optimize Ptp (insp and exp) instead of plateau pressures and PEEP.  How may it be useful clinically? Well, you may be able to detect unsuspected states of de-recruitment/ateletasis due to excessive chest wall or abdominal pressure, and allow you to increase PEEP “safely.”

When should I use this?

I’m not sure what everyone else is doing, but we are in the process of setting up a protocol where esophageal balloons will be inserted for any patient whose ventilator settings are approaching or exceeding FiO2 70%/PEEP 15, indicative of sufficiently severe respiratory failure warranting this additional level of fine-tuning.

I tend to use it when ventilating two groups: those with (a) elevated intraabdominal pressure, and (b) the obese patients, as they often have elevated Pes (usually due to diaphragmatic displacement. Interestingly, the correlation between obesity and Pes is not very good, so one should not “blindly” feel they can crank up the PEEP to 25 and ignore plateau pressures, as some obese patients have normal Pes (likely due to compliant abdominal walls.

Would love to hear what others do.


Here are the relevant articles/references:








POCUS Course: Quebec city 2017!

Here’s a chance to learn with one of the masters in the field, my friend Andre Denault, internist-anaesthetist-intensivist extraordinaire, and a true mentor to me.

Designed for acute care docs, this is an approach to respiratory failure, shock and renal failure. I recommend it to anyone in the field!




I’ll likely be an instructor there is I can free up my schedule, so see you there!