Modified ED thoracotomy to avoid exsanguination

Emergency physicians from Minnesota (and graduates of the amazing Hennepin Emergency Medicine Residency) describe a patient who developed cardiac tamponade after an ablation procedure for dysrhythmia. Attempts at pericardiocentesis by both emergency and cardiology staff were hindered by clotted blood, and so a left lateral thoracotomy was performed in the ED due to loss of pulse and lack of immediate availability of an operating room. A limited pericardial incision was made to allow drainage of sufficient blood to relieve tamponade while avoiding catastrophic blood loss from the underlying lesion, which turned out to be a 1.5-cm hole in the right ventricular outflow tract. The patient made a full recovery.

Cardiac dysrhythmias are a common problem in the United States. Radiofrequency ablation is being used more frequently as a treatment for these diagnoses. Although rare, serious complications such as cardiac tamponade have been reported as a result of ablation procedures. Traditionally, emergency department (ED) thoracotomy has been reserved for cases of traumatic arrest only. We report a case of a successful modified ED thoracotomy in a patient with postablation cardiac tamponade and subsequent obstructive shock who failed intravenous fluid resuscitation, pressor administration, and multiple attempts at pericardiocentesis. In this case, a modified approach was used to incise the pericardium. Although this was associated with large blood loss, we believed that using the traditional method of completely removing the pericardium would have resulted in uncontrolled hemorrhage. Instead, our method led to successful resuscitation of the patient until definitive care was available. A smaller pericardial incision than is traditionally used during ED thoracotomy deserves further consideration and research to determine whether and when it may be most useful as a temporizing treatment of cardiac tamponade when other methods have failed.

Modified Emergency Department Thoracotomy for Postablation Cardiac Tamponade
Annals of Emergency Medicine In Press – Full Text Available here from Annals site at time of blogging