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 2: A 50 yr old man with dyspnea, acidosis, hepatitis and leg edema. #FOAMed, #FOAMer, #FOAMus

So I was glad to see some great answers on twitter about this case, so let me fill you guys in on the management and the details.

So my diagnosis was of a (likely viral) myocarditis as a subacute process over the last weeks, with a superimposed pneumonia causing the acute deterioration and presentation to ED.  I didn’t think that his elevated lactate represented shock, but rather a reflection of adrenergic activation and reduced hepatic clearance due to congestive hepatitis.  He also had congestive renal failure. Of course, the LV had a 4 x 2 cm apical thrombus, which is likely secondary to the dilated cardiomyopathy.

So the management was diuretics, antibiotics, and anticoagulation, which resulted in a gradual improvement of the respiratory status and renal/hepatic dysfunction. He had a coronary angiogram the day following admission which showed two 50% stenoses deemed to be innocent bystanders.

Bottom Line:

I think the learning point in this case is that, without POCUS, this could easily have been treated as severe sepsis with multiple organ failure (potentially rationalizing away the BP of 140 as a “relatively low” BP due to untreated hypertension), and as such, may have received fluids… Especially south of the border where they are mandated to give 30 cc/kg to anything deemed “septic.”  This would have been the polar opposite of the necessary treatment.

The scarier thought is that he may have then progressed to “ARDS,” been intubated and then the debate between keeping him dry and giving fluids for the kidneys may have ensued.  Though a formal echo likely would have been done, it may not have happened in the first 24-48 hours… If MSOF progressed and he succumbed, the rational may have been that he was “so sick,” and died despite “best care…”

The reality is that he is not yet out of the woods today, with an EF of 15% and afib, but he is off O2 and sitting up in a chair. Fingers crossed he falls in the group of those with myocarditis who improve…

Love to hear anyone’s thoughts!




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.

Bedside ultrasound case: Fibroids, Syncope and Dyspnea. #FOAMed, #FOAMus, #FOAMcc

So today, a 33F presented following syncope. She was mildly tachypneic wiyh a HR of 135 and BP of 130/80. I’m inserting the clip of my bedside ultrasound evaluation, as this takes place essentially simultaneously with my history-taking:

So this clip runs thru a few views, starting with an IVC long axis, showing a relatively plethoric IVC with minimal variation. This is not normal. Tells me to expect something abnormal downstream, unless someone has flooded the patient with IV fluids. The next view is the parasternal long, then short axis, showing an increased RV to LV ratio, and a small, hypercontractile LV, with septal flattening consistent with RV pressure overload, the “D” sign.  The apical 4 chamber follows with little else to add (difficult to measure TAPSE well in that segment).

So this is sure looking like pulmonary embolism, and I’m already toying with a half dose TPA, MOPETT-style, until the reveals that the cause of her starting oral contraceptives two months ago was to control heavy menses associated with large uterine fibroids… So I figure I’ll buy myself some decision time anyhow by ordering the CT angio – unless in pre-arrest, I don’t thrombolyse without formal confirmation – but I did start IV heparin on the echo findings. Here is the CT:

So this indeed confirms submissive embolism, particularly to the left PA.

Next?  I work in a community hospital, and although I’m totally comfortable thrombolysing PE, in this case, I was concerned about bleeding related to the fibroids, and I haven’t yet figured out a way to embolize bleeding vessels at the bedside, so I felt that the safest thing was to transfer her to a tertiary care center with a solid interventional radiology program. So off she went. I’ll update if anything funky was done like a catheter suction and I can get some clips.

So in terms of POCUS, I think this illustrates how speedily a diagnosis can be made, and although in this case the pre-test probability and index of suspicion was pretty high, it isn’t always!





For more POCUS tips, see here!

POCUS in cardiac arrest: Great, but avoid Pitfalls! #FOAMed, #FOAMus

So just wanted to briefly review POCUS technique during arrest. What I like to do is to position my probe for a subxiphoid view while CPR is ongoing, and try to see what I can. It may look like this:


The best is to record a loop and review it immediately, in order to be able to focus properly on each important area and let CPR continue. For instance, in the clip above, there is a lot of information. There is a pericardial effusion, but clearly visible cardiac chambers make tamponade as the sole reason of the arrest unlikely (atrial pressures > pericardial pressure). The RV is not huge and crushing the LV, so massive PE – although not ruled out – probably isn’t the cause of arrest. 

Be wary, however, of making calls based on RV appearance or RV to LV ratios as representing PE in a nonbeating heart, as this is not necessarily representative of the state of the RV or RV/LV ratio immediately pre-arrest.

More Posts to come on the topic of peri-arrest POCUS…


For more POCUS tips, see here!


Bedside Ultrasound: a primer for clinical integration. #POCUS


So I had a lot of people ask me over the years to put to paper (or screen) a POCUS book, but I figured there were so many good ones out there, like my original Bible, General Ultrasound in the Critically Ill by my good friend Daniel Lichtenstein, or Vicky & Bret’s book, Emergency and Critical Care Ultrasound, that I would be trying to re-invent the wheel, and probably not doing as good a job.

But then I remembered Dubin’s EKG book, the kind of book you could almost read in a single sitting, and certainly over a few days, and get a decent grasp of the concepts and actually have some skill at the end of it.  So I figured maybe I could put together something like that for POCUS from the standpoint of clinical integration. Not so much a protocol, but how you fit your findings together in clinical syndromes, and inserting as many tips and pearls as possible.

It’s a light read, it’s irreverent, it’s kinda like #FOAM. So I hope I did a decent enough job, and I was pretty happy with the comments from a couple of respected colleagues:

Philippe has created a fantastic real-time reference for the busy practicing clinician who wishes to adopt point of care ultrasound into their working cinical armamentarium. The strength of this work is it’s immediate applicability to the clinical scenario. Dr. Rola’s extensive experience in clinical practice and teaching shines through with a concise and clinically minded approach to each scanning modality. The work is greatly enriched by many practical tips and tricks and that are often missing from larger, more formal texts. The sum of these “truths” is an important part of what transforms a clinician to an expert in the field. A final unique feature of this resource is it’s focus on integration. In Philippe’s mind, findings of differing ultrasound modalities are blended together with the patient’s clinical picture to derive a true ultrasound enhanced understanding of the patient’s pathophysiology. With characteristic plain language and descriptions, the book succeeds in taking the reader closer to that vision.

Dr. Edgar Hockmann, MD, FRCP

Dr. Rola has created the ideal compendium for contemporary healthcare professionals. Bedside Ultrasound: a primer for clinical integration concisely and intuitively describes the essentials of examining a patient in the 21st century. The guide is both unique and useful because it speaks to all levels of training for all professionals caring for patients within multiple hospital environments – the emergency department, general medical ward, operating room and intensive care unit. Dr. Rola’s succinct account of ultrasound examination leads the reader through a patient’s anatomical and physiological underpinnings using the ultrasound probe as his guide; it is a resource to be found in the pocket – virtual or otherwise – of all those interested in the future of the physical exam.

Jon-Emile Kenny M.D.

The first print run just got off the press, is on Amazon here, as is our casebook, and on our website The iPad version is available on iTunes here! Please give me feedback as it is important, so that the second edition just gets better!