Category Archives: Equipment

The Lowly Blood Pressure Cuff: Is It Accurate?

Yesterday, I described how the typical automated oscillometric blood pressure cuff works. We rely on this workhorse piece of equipment for nearly all pressure determinations outside of the intensive care unit. So the obvious question is, “is it accurate?”

Interestingly, there are not very many good papers that have ever looked at this! However, this simple question was addressed by a group at Harvard back in 2013. This study utilized an extensive ICU database from 7 ICUs at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Seven years of data were analyzed, including minute by minute blood pressure readings in patients with both automated cuffs and indwelling arterial lines. Arterial line pressures were considered to be the “gold standard.”

Here are the factoids:

  • Over 27,000 pairs of simultaneously recorded cuff and arterial line measurements from 852 patients were analyzed
  • The cuff underestimated art line SBP for pressures at or above 95 torr
  • The cuff overestimated SBO for pressures below 95 torr (!)
  • Patients in profound shock (SBP < 60) had a cuff reading 10 torr higher
  • Mean arterial pressure was reasonably accurate in hypotensive patients

sbp-cuff-v-aline

Bottom line: The good, old-fashioned automated blood pressure cuff is fine for patients with normal pressures or better. In fact, it tends to understimate the SBP the higher it is, which is fine. However, it overestimates the SBP in hypotensive patients. This can be dangerous! 

You may look at that SBP of 90 and say to yourself, “that’s not too bad.” But really it might be 80. Would that change your mind? Don’t get suckered into thinking that this mainstay of medical care is perfect! And consider peeking at the mean arterial pressure from time to time. That may give you a more accurate picture of where the patient really is from a pressure standpoint.

Related posts:

Reference: Methods of blood pressure measurement in the ICU. Crit Care Med Journal, 41(1): 34-40, 2013.

 

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How Does It Work? The Lowly Blood Pressure Cuff

The blood pressure cuff is one of those devices trauma professionals don’t give a second thought to. Old timers like me remember using the cuff with a sphygmomanometer and stethoscope to get manual blood pressures. I’ve had to do this twice in recent months on airplanes, and I had forgotten how much work this is.

But technology makes things easier for us. Now you just slap a cuff on the arm (or wrist), push a button, and voila! You’ve got the pressure.

But have you stopped to think about how this actually works? Why don’t we need the stethoscope any more? Here’s the scoop:

When you take a manual blood pressure, the cuff is inflated until a pulse can no longer be auscultated with the stethoscope. The pressure is slowly released using a little thumb wheel while listening for the pulse again. The pressure at which it is first audible is the systolic, and the pressure at which it softens and fades away is the diastolic.

The automatic blood pressure device consists of a cuff, tubing that connects it to the monitor, a pressure transducer in line with the tubing, a mini air pump, and a small computer. The transducer replaces the analog pressure gauge, and the pump and computer replace the human.

The transducer can “see” through the tubing and into the cuff. It is very sensitive to pressure and pressure changes. The computer directs the pump to inflate to about 20 torr above the point where pulsations in the air column cease. It then releases the pressure at about 4 torr per second, “feeling” for air column vibrations to start. When this occurs, the systolic pressure is recorded. Deflation continues until the vibrations stop, representing the diastolic pressure.

bpcuff

Piece of cake! But here’s the question: is it accurate? Tomorrow, I’ll write about how the automated cuff compares to an indwelling arterial line.

Related post:

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The IVC Filter In Trauma: Why?

The inferior vena cava (IVC) filter has been around in one form or another for over 40 years. One would think that we would have figured everything about it out by now. But no!  The filter has evolved through a number of iterations and form factors over the years. The existing studies, in general, give us piecemeal information on the utility and safety of the device.

One of the major innovations with this technology came with the development of a removable filter. Take a look at the product below. Note the hook at the top and the (relatively) blunt tips of the feet. This allows a metal sheath to be slipped over the filter while in place in the IVC. The legs collapse, and the entire thing can be removed via the internal jugular vein.

ivc-filter-complications1

The availability of the removable filter led the American College of Chest Physicians to recommend their placement in patients with known pulmonary embolism (PE) or proximal deep venous thrombosis (DVT) in patients with contraindications to anticoagulation. Unfortunately, this has been generalized by some trauma professionals over the years to include any trauma patients at high risk for DVT or PE, but who don’t actually have them yet.

One would think that, given the appearance of one of these filters, they would be protective and clots would get caught up in the legs and be unable to travel to the lungs as a PE. Previous studies have taught us that this is not necessarily the case. Plus, the filter can’t stop clots that originate in the upper extremities from becoming an embolism. And there are quite a few papers that have demonstrated the short- and long-term complications, including clot at and below the filter as well as post-phlebitic syndrome in the lower extremities.

A new study from Boston University reviewed their own experience retrospectively over a 9 year period. This cohort study looked at patients with and without filters, matching them for age, sex, race, and injury severity. The authors specifically looked at mortality, and used four study periods during the 9 year interval.

Here are the factoids:

  • Over 18,000 patients were admitted during the study period, resulting in 451 with an IVC filter inserted and 1343 matched controls
  • The patients were followed for an average of 4 years after hospitalization
  • Mortality was identical between patients with filters vs the matched controls

dvt-study

  • There was still no difference in mortality, even if the patients with the filter had DVT or PE present when it was inserted
  • Only 8% ever had their “removable” filter removed (!)

Bottom line: Hopefully, it’s becoming obvious to all that the era of the IVC filter has come and gone. There are many studies that show the downside of placement. And there are several (including this one) that show how forgetful we are about taking them out when no longer needed. And, of course, they are expensive. But the final straw is that they do not seem to protect our patients like we thought (hoped?) they would. It’s time to reconsider those DVT/PE protocols and think really hard about whether we should be inserting IVC filters in trauma patients at all.

Related post:

Reference: Association Between Inferior Vena Cava Filter Insertion
in Trauma Patients and In-Hospital and Overall Mortality. JAMA Surg, online ahead of print, September 28, 2016.

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Why Is My Trauma Patient On Oxygen?

How many times has this happened to you? You walk into a young, healthy trauma patient’s room and discover that they have nasal prongs and oxygen in place. Or better yet, these items appear overnight on a patient who never needed them previously. And the reason? The pulse oximeter reading had been “low” at some point.

loc-0424-cs-belding-pet-masks-11-1024x6821

This phenomenon of treating numbers without forethought has been one of my pet peeves for years. Somehow, it is assumed that an oximetry value less than the standard “normal” requires therapy. This is not the case.

In young, healthy people the peripheral oxygen saturation values (O2 sat) are typically 96-100% on room air. As we age, the normal values slowly decline. If we abuse ourselves (smoking, working in toxic environments, etc), lung damage occurs and the values can be significantly lower. Patients with obstructive sleep apnea will have much lower numbers intermittently through the night.

So when does a trauma inpatient actually need supplemental oxygen? Unfortunately, the literature provides little guidance on what “normal” really is in older or less healthy patients. Probably because there is no norm. The key is that the patient must need oxygen therapy.

But how can you tell? Examine them! Talk to them! If the only abnormal finding is patient annoyance due to the persistent beeping of the machine, they don’t need oxygen. If they feel anxious, short of breath, or have new onset tachycardia, they probably do. Saturations in the low 90s or even upper 80s can be normal for the elderly and smokers.

Bottom line: Don’t get into the habit of treating numbers without thinking about them. There are lots of reasons for the oximeter to read artificially low. There are also many reasons for patients to have a low O2 sat reading which is not physiologically significant. So listen, talk, touch and observe. Set the alarm level to 90%, or even lower. And if your patient is comfortable and has no idea that their O2 sat is low, turn off the oxygen and toss the oximeter out the window.

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What’s The Best Pelvic Binder? Part 2

Yesterday, I detailed some pelvic binders commonly available in the US. Today, I’ll go through the (little) science there is regarding which are better than others.

There are a number of factors to consider when choosing one of these products. They are:

  • Does it work?
  • Does it hurt or cause skin damage?
  • Is it easy to use?
  • How much does it cost?

It’s difficult to determine how well binders work in the live, clinical setting. But biomechanical studies can serve as a surrogate to try to answer this question. One such cadaver study was carried out in the Netherlands a few years ago. They created one of three different fracture types in pelvis specimens. Special locator wires were placed initially so they could measure bone movement before and after binder placement. All three of the previously discussed commercial binders were used.

Here are the factoids:

  • In fracture patterns that were partially stable or unstable, all binders successfully closed the pelvic ring.
  • None of the binders caused adverse displacements of fracture fragments.
  • Pulling force to achieve complete reduction was lowest with the T-POD (40 Newtons) and highest with the SAM pelvic sling (120 Newtons). The SAM sling limits compression to 150 Newtons, which was more than adequate to close the pelvis.

So what about harm? A healthy volunteer study was used to test each binder for tissue pressure levels. The 80 volunteers were outfitted with a pressure sensing mat around their pelvis, and readings were taken with each binder in place.

Here are the additional factoids:

  • The tissue damage threshold was assumed to be 9.3 kPa sustained for more than 2-3 hours based on the 1994 paper cited below.
  • All binders exceeded the tissue damage threshold at the greater trochanters and sacrum while lying on a backboard. It was highest with the Pelvic Binder and lowest with the SAM sling.
  • Pressures over the trochanters decreased significantly after transfer to a hospital bed, but the Pelvic Binder pressures remained at the tissue damage level.
  • Pressures over the sacrum far exceeded the tissue damage pressure with all binders on a backboard and it remained at or above this level even after transfer to a bed. Once again, the Pelvic Binder pressures were higher. The other splints had similar pressures.

And finally, the price! Although your results may vary due to your buying power, the SAM sling is about $50-$70, the Pelvic Binder $140, and the T-POD $125.

Bottom line: The binder that performed the best (equivalent biomechanical testing, better tissue pressure profile) was the SAM sling. It also happens to be the least expensive, although it takes a little more elbow grease to apply. In my mind, that’s a winning combo. Plus, it’s narrow, which allows easy access to the abdomen and groins for procedures. But remember, whichever one you choose, get them off as soon as possible to avoid skin complications.

References:

  • Comparison of three different pelvic circumferential compression devices: a biomechanical cadaver study. JBJS 93:230-240, 2011.
  • Randomised clinical trial comparing pressure characteristics of pelvic circumferential compression devices in healthy volunteers. Injury 42:1020-1026, 2011.
  • Pressure sores. BMJ 309(6959):853-857, 1994.
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