Introduction: In the catastrophic neurologic emergency, a complete neurological exam is not always possible or feasible given the time-sensitive nature of the underlying disease process, or if emergent airway management is indicated. As the neurologic exam may be limited in some patients, the emergency physician is reliant on the assessment of brainstem structures to determine neurological function. Physicians thus routinely depend on advanced imaging modalities to further investigate for potential catastrophic diagnoses. Acquiring these tests introduces the risks of transport as well as delays in managing time-sensitive neurologic processes. A more immediate, non-invasive bedside approach complementing these modalities has evolved: Transcranial Doppler (TCD).
Objective: This narrative review will provide a description of scenarios in which TCD may be applicable. It will summarize the sonographic findings and associated underlying pathophysiology in such neurocritical care patients. An illustrated tutorial, along with pearls and pitfalls, is provided.
Discussion: Although there are numerous formalized TCD protocols utilizing four views (transtemporal, submandibular, suboccipital, and transorbital), point-of-care TCD is best accomplished through the transtemporal window. The core applications include the evaluation of midline shift, vasospasm after subarachnoid hemorrhage, acute ischemic stroke, and elevated intracranial pressure. An illustrative tutorial is provided.
Conclusions: With the wide dissemination of bedside ultrasound within the emergency department, there is a unique opportunity for the emergency physician to utilize TCD for a variety of conditions. While barriers to training exist, emergency physician performance of limited point-of-care TCD is feasible and may provide rapid and reliable clinical information with high temporal resolution.
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