Health & Fitness:Medicine
Ep 13 - Intro to EM: The patient with shortness of breath
Breathless patients are a challenge in the ED. Shortness of breath can be a frightening presenting complaint for both patients and doctors. As always, think about the possible life threatening causes and actively rule them out. For breathless patients think especially about:
Breathless Patients Podcast
In this podcast Iain and Simon discuss their approach to breathless patients in the ED which we hope will provide you with a good starting point.
For those of you who are more visual learners here is the video recorded a few years ago for SEMEP featuring our very own Iain Beardsell.
Take Home Points
Oxygen - or no oxygen??
Oxygen administration is rarely a problem in the immediate and acute setting - and can save lives. So yes, when you first approach a patient who is short of breath, get that oxygen on while you make your assessment then think about the finer points of respiratory failure afterwards.
Where do I begin?
A focused history, including asking the patient about previous conditions and whether they know what's going on!
And then - initial assessment and examination including vital signs (especially respiratory rate), looking for clues as to the underlying cause of their breathlessness, remembering the five common causes.
What treatments might be useful?
A small fluid bolus might help and carries relatively little risk; think about the need for nebulised bronchodilators for patients with asthma or COPD, and remember that antibiotics given early to patients with sepsis save lives.
If the patient has pain we should definitely treat that too.
Which investigations might help me find out more?
One of the key investigations in patients with shortness of breath is the humble chest radiograph. There are some phenomenal FOAM resources for interpretation of CXRs (along with other XRs) at Radiology Masterclass. Well worth bookmarking for your ED shifts (but do ask a senior if you're unsure).
Chest X-Ray Anatomy - Chest X-Ray Abnormalities - Chest X-Ray Systematic Approach
Think! Do you really need an ABG? If the answer is yes, please use local anaesthetic! Your patients will thank you...Further Reading on Shortness of Breath
The Flipped EM Classroom - Shortness of Breath (with further links).
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