Category Archives: General

By Request: Drugs Are Chemicals??

This is another one of my most popular posts. Many patients (and more than a few doctors) have a hard time grasping the fact that the medications that we prescribe often do more than just one thing. They actually do many, many things most of the time. Sometimes too many. Here’s the post:

One of the cornerstones of allopathic medicine is the use of drugs to treat disease conditions. And unfortunately, one of the side effects of using drugs to treat problems is the production of side effects(!).

In trauma care, even something as simple as treating pain from an injury can create major problems. Give a narcotic pain medication. The patient gets nauseated and vomits. Try a different narcotic. The patient develops constipation. Give stool softeners and cathartics. Diarrhea. Then pseudo-obstruction develops. Give neostigmine. The patient becomes bradycardic. Give… well, you get the picture.

How common are side effects? Very! Did anyone see the first TV commercials for Chantix, the smoking cessation drug? It was about 3 minutes long because of the long list of side effects that were described. I’m surprised anyone was willing to risk them just to stop smoking cigarettes.

A recent study looked at the number of side effects listed on the labels of 5,602 medications approved by the FDA. There were a grand total of 534,125 adverse drug effects described in the packaging. Some interesting statistics:

  • The number of adverse effects for ranged from 0 to 525(!) for a single drug
  • The median number of adverse effects was 49, the average was 70
  • Drugs with the most side effects are used in neurology, psychiatry and rheumatology
  • Newer drugs had significantly more adverse effects than older ones

It’s certainly easy to bash pharmaceutical companies on their products. But some of these findings may be due to more rigorous testing and monitoring, as well as nuances in the populations in which these drugs are used.

Bottom line: Drugs are chemicals! Each chemical has a number of effects, some of which are desirable, and some of which are not. The drug companies choose to market a drug based on one desired effect (e.g. control of nausea). Just remember, when you give that medication, you will probably get the desired effect, but you will just as likely also get some of the other 69 possible side effects. Be prepared, and prescribe sensibly.

Reference: A quantitative analysis of adverse events and “overwarning” in drug labeling. Arch Int Med 171(10):944-946, 2011.

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The August Trauma MedEd Newsletter Is Coming Soon: The Laws of Trauma

I’m going to send out the next edition of the Trauma MedEd newsletter early next week. In this one, I’ll be presenting and discussing some of the “Laws of Trauma” that I’ve observed over the years. I think you’ll find them interesting and amusing.

As always, this issue will go to all of my subscribers first. If you are not yet one of them, click this link to sign up and/or download back issues.

Unfortunately, non-subscribers will have to wait until I release the issue on this blog, about 10 days later. So sign up now!

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Delayed Diagnoses In Children Revisited

A couple of years ago I wrote about a paper that examined patterns in delayed diagnoses in injured children. It was a single-hospital study of children treated at a Level II pediatric trauma center. In that study, the overall rate of delayed diagnosis was 4%. The orthopedic component looked high but was not really broken down in detail.

A soon-to-be-published study looked at more recent experience with this issue, specifically in pediatric patients with orthopedic injury. They specifically evaluated all pediatric patients with bone, joint, peripheral nerve, and tendon injuries treated at their Level I pediatric trauma center over a nearly 6 year period. Orthopedic surgery consults were obtained at the discretion of the trauma or primary service.

How good was their discretion? Here are the factoids:

  • 1009 trauma activations were reviewed, of which 196 (19%) were eventually diagnosed with an orthopedic injury
  • There were 18 children (9%) with a delayed diagnosis, defined as one discovered 12 hours or longer after admission. Most were missed on initial exam or imaging
  • The injuries were literally all over the place. There was no obvious pattern.
  • Six of these were detected on tertiary survey
  • Average time to discovery was 3 days, and the average age of these children was 11 years
  • Children with a delayed diagnosis tended to be much more seriously hurt (ISS 21 vs 9), and more likely to have a significant head injury (GCS 12 vs 14)
  • One child required surgery for the delayed diagnosis, the rest were managed with splinting/casting or observation

Bottom line: Delayed diagnoses happen in children, too. And typically, they are due to a failure in the physical exam. Sometimes there is nothing to discover on the exam. But often times, if the mechanism is fully taken into account and a really good  exam is performed, these injuries may be found early.

I don’t consider an injury found on tertiary exam to be a delayed diagnosis, as long as it is performed within a reasonable time frame (24-48 hours max). It’s a well established fact that some injuries will not manifest as pain or bruising until the next day, or longer. So pick a maximum time interval (but don’t make it too early either) and do a tertiary survey on all children who are trauma activations, have multiple injuries, or have a significant mechanism. 

Related posts:

Reference: Incidence of delayed diagnosis of orthopaedic injury in pediatric trauma patients. J Ortho Trauma epub ahead of print, April 29, 2017.

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Imaging After Chest Tube: Why Do It?

More dogma, or is it actually useful? Any time a chest tube (tube thoracostomy) is inserted, we automatically order a chest x-ray. Even the ATLS course recommends obtaining an image after placement. But anything we do “automatically” is grounds for critical analysis to see if there is a valid reason for doing it.

A South African group looked at the utility of this practice retrospectively in 1004 of their patients. They place 1042 tubes. Here are the factoids:

  • Patients were included if they had at least one chest x-ray obtained after insertion
  • Patients were grouped as follows: Group A (10%) had the tube inserted on clinical grounds with no pre-insertion x-ray (e.g. tension pneumothorax). Group B (19%) had a chest x-ray before and had ongoing clinical concerns after insertion. Group C (71%) had a chest-xray before and no ongoing concerns.
  • 75% of injuries were penetrating (75% stab, 25% GSW), 25% were blunt
  • Group A (insertion with pre-x-ray): 9% had post-insertion findings that prompted a management change (kinked, not inserted far enough)
  • Group B (ongoing clinical concerns): 58% required a management change based on the post-x-ray. 33% were subcutaneous or not inserted far enough (!!)
  • Group C (no ongoing clinical concerns): 32 of 710 (5%) required a management change, usually because the tube was too deep

The authors concluded that if there are no clinical concerns (tube functioning, no clinical symptoms) after insertion, then a chest x-ray is not necessary.

Bottom line: But I disagree with the authors! Even with no obvious clinical concerns, the tube may not be functioning for a variety of reasons. Hopefully, this fact would then be discovered the next day when another x-ray is obtained. But this delays the usual progression toward removing the tube promptly by at least one day. It increases hospital stay, as well as the likelihood of infection or other hospital-associated complication. A chest x-ray is cheap compared to a day in the hospital, which would potentially happen in 5% of these patients. I recommend that we continue to obtain a simple one-view chest x-ray after tube insertion.

Tomorrow: Look at the chest x-ray. Is it a good chest tube?

The next day: What if you placed the chest tube in your resuscitation room and are planning to go to CT for additional imaging? Is it worthwhile getting a chest x-ray, or should you just check the tube with the CT scan?

Related posts:

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