Angioedema in the emergency department: a practical guide to differential diagnosis and management

Int J Emerg Med. 2017 Dec;10(1):15. doi: 10.1186/s12245-017-0141-z. Epub 2017 Apr 13.


Background: Angioedema is a common presentation in the emergency department (ED). Airway angioedema can be fatal; therefore, prompt diagnosis and correct treatment are vital.

Objective of the review: Based on the findings of two expert panels attended by international experts in angioedema and emergency medicine, this review aims to provide practical guidance on the diagnosis, differentiation, and management of histamine- and bradykinin-mediated angioedema in the ED.

Review: The most common pathophysiology underlying angioedema is mediated by histamine; however, ED staff must be alert for the less common bradykinin-mediated forms of angioedema. Crucially, bradykinin-mediated angioedema does not respond to the same treatment as histamine-mediated angioedema. Bradykinin-mediated angioedema can result from many causes, including hereditary defects in C1 esterase inhibitor (C1-INH), side effects of angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEis), or acquired deficiency in C1-INH. The increased use of ACEis in recent decades has resulted in more frequent encounters with ACEi-induced angioedema in the ED; however, surveys have shown that many ED staff may not know how to recognize or manage bradykinin-mediated angioedema, and hospitals may not have specific medications or protocols in place.

Conclusion: ED physicians must be aware of the different pathophysiologic pathways that lead to angioedema in order to efficiently and effectively manage these potentially fatal conditions.

Keywords: Angioedema; Bradykinin-mediated; Emergency department; Guideline; Histamine-mediated.

Publication types

  • Review