Approach to undifferentiated dyspnea in emergency department: aids in rapid clinical decision-making

Int J Emerg Med. 2018 Apr 4;11(1):21. doi: 10.1186/s12245-018-0181-z.


Background: Diagnosis and management of patients presenting with acute dyspnea is one of the major challenges for physicians in emergency department (ED). A correct diagnosis is frequently delayed and difficult to ascertain, and clinical uncertainty is common, explaining the need for rapid diagnosis and a management plan. The primary aim of our study is to assess a diagnostic strategy using multiorgan point of care ultrasonography (USG) to differentiate patients presenting with acute dyspnea to ED into different diagnostic categories for timely management in a resource-limited setting.

Methods: This is a prospective cohort study which assessed the diagnostic performance of a strategy in evaluating patients presenting with undifferentiated dyspnea as primary predominant complaint to ED. Focused multiorgan USG which includes cardiac USG for left ventricle systolic function, right ventricle enlargement, and pericardial effusion, inferior vena cava (IVC) diameter and collapsibility, lung USG to identify various patterns (acute interstitial syndrome, pneumothorax, pleural effusion, consolidation, etc.) and renal USG to assess kidney size and echotexture was performed. Later, patients were grouped into one of ten clinical syndromes defined in the study based on USG and clinical patterns. Emergency diagnosis was compared with final hospital diagnosis to assess the accuracy of this strategy.

Results: Concordance between ED diagnosis of dyspnea using the diagnostic strategy proposed in the study with final hospital diagnosis was high with agreement in 88% of patients (Kappa statistic = .805, p = .000) which is statistically significant. The most common diagnosis was acute decompensated heart failure (ADHF). Sensitivity and specificity of the diagnostic strategy used in this study to identify ADHF was 97.3 and 93.3%, respectively. On multivariate analysis, jugular venous distension, fever and cough, ejection fraction (by eyeball method), dilated IVC, absent to decreased lung sliding showed independent association in predicting cardiac and non-cardiac diagnosis.

Conclusions: The present study concludes that integrating focused multiorgan USG by lung-cardiac-IVC and renal ultrasound into routine clinical evaluation of patients with dyspnea has a higher accuracy for differentiating causes of dyspnea in emergency department. This strategy can be adopted even in resource limited setting.

Keywords: Diagnostic strategy; Dyspnea; Emergency department; Multiorgan USG; Resource limited setting.