FAST Cardiac Ultrasound And Traumatic Arrest
Cardiac arrest in trauma patients is bad. Really bad. There are few survivors, mainly those who have some signs of life when they roll into the resuscitation room. One of the signs we look for is cardiac electrical activity, especially a narrow complex rhythm. But most of the time these patients don’t survive either. Could there be a way to fine tune the use of pulseless electrical activity (PEA) to better determine when further care is futile?
The trauma group at UCSF-East Bay did a nice, retrospective review on the use of the cardiac portion of the FAST exam to assess patients arriving in PEA arrest after either blunt or penetrating trauma. The numbers were a bit thin, but they were able to study 162 patients who had both FAST and EKG upon arrival. Of those patients, 71 had electrical activity, but only 17 had cardiac motion. However, 4 of these 17 survived (24%) vs only 1 of the 54 who did not have cardiac motion.
About a third of these 71 patients suffered blunt trauma, the remainder had penetrating injury. Of the 17 with cardiac activity, 14 were penetrating and 3 were blunt. And of the 4 survivors mentioned above, 3 were penetrating.
Only 1 of the 71 patients with PEA and no cardiac activity survived, and this was a blunt arrest(!).
Bottom line: Traumatic arrest is a generally fatal problem. However, it appears that use of the cardiac portion of the FAST exam in penetrating or blunt trauma can help fine tune the aggressiveness of resuscitation. PEA without cardiac activity is uniformly fatal (although there was one blunt survivor, the authors did specify the quality of this survival). It may be wise to forego further resuscitative efforts in PEA patients without cardiac activity because they will not survive, even as an organ donor.
Reference: The heart of the matter: Utility of ultrasound of cardiac activity during traumatic arrest. J Trauma 73(1):103-110, 2012.
Violating Resuscitation Guidelines for Prehospital Traumatic Arrest
Eight years ago, the National Association of Emergency Medical Services Physicians (NAEMSP) and the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma (ACS-COT) released guidelines regarding withholding or terminating resuscitation in traumatic cardiopulmonary arrest (TCPA). Survival rates were extremely low (<2%) and were thought to have poor outcomes. But validation of the guidelines has been challenging, and some even doubted that EMS personnel could accurately assess these patients in the field!!
Researchers at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Chicago performed a large retrospective study of all patients in TCPA brought to their hospital by the Chicago Fire Department over at 7.5 year period. These patients met exclusion criteria but had been resuscitated anyway. Their series was relatively large (294 patients), and looked not only at the ultimate outcome, but also at EMS performance and cost.
They found that field assessments by EMS were very accurate and consistent. Violation of the guidelines resulted in only 6 survivors, and they all were resuscitated to a neurologically devastated state (4 brain dead, 1 family withdrew support, 1 sent to TCU with long-term GCS 6). No loss of neurologically intact survivors would have occurred if the guidelines were followed. Finally, the cost of trying to resuscitate these patients was $385,000 per year.
Bottom line: EMS can and should apply the NAEMSP/ACS-COT criteria for traumatic cardiopulmonary arrest and withhold resuscitation for these patients. Tragically, it is an expensive waste of time to try to bring them back.
To review the NAEMSP guidelines, click here.
Reference: The consequences of violating current guidelines regarding resuscitation of patients in prehospital traumatic arrest. Presented at the 34th annual Residents Trauma Paper Competition at the 89th Annual Meeting of the ACS Committee on Trauma, March 10, 2011.