Critical Care, Improving Outcomes, Mythbusting

Dissections & digitometers

hello. Hello. HELLO!!!!!

Hi there. Just wanted to let you know that I finally rediscoved a use for the digitometer.

No, seriously.

This was a historical matched case-control study from 2002-2014 of 111 aortic dissection patients at 2 Canadian tertiary are centers and one regional cardiac referral center (and 111 case controls) looking specifically at bilateral blood pressure differential as well as pulse deficits as a marker for acute aortic dissection in the ED.

Not surprisingly, combining the two (blood pressure differential and pulse deficit) increased sensitivity (from 21% to 77%), but greatly decreases specificity (99% to 56%) – which is not quite ideal when dealing with needle in the haystack diagnoses.

Now, I do not know if it was because it was documented retrospectively (“oh no, they have a dissection on imaging, I better check pulses!”), or pulled up as part of a macro as a default (“pulses equal and brisk bilaterally’), and I would not be at all surprised if this were the case, but regardless, 21% of dissections having a pulse deficit vs 0.9% of non-dissections is pretty darn good.

Like +LR of 23.4 good. And in line with other studies reporting 24% sensitivity and 92% specificity.

Dont believe that BP differential is not a specific sign? Talk to your triage nurses to see how many times they recheck a blood pressure on a hypertensive patient in triage on the other arm – verified by prior studies showing over 50% of ED patients have >10 mmHg differential, and 19% have >20 mmHg differentials.

So while pulse deficit may possibly be over-exaggerated because of retrospective / biased ED charting, still, the absence of a pulse should at be nudging providers to consider advanced imaging sooner rather than later.

Standard

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