JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Usefulness of emergency ultrasound in nontraumatic cardiac arrest

Giovanni Volpicelli
American Journal of Emergency Medicine 2011, 29 (2): 216-23
20825919
Treatment of nontraumatic cardiac arrest in the hospital setting depends on the recognition of heart rhythm and differential diagnosis of the underlying condition while maintaining a constant oxygenated blood flow by ventilation and chest compression. Diagnostic process relies only on patient's history, physical findings, and active electrocardiography. Ultrasound is not currently scheduled in the resuscitation guidelines. Nevertheless, the use of real-time ultrasonography during resuscitation has the potential to improve diagnostic accuracy and allows the physician a greater confidence in deciding aggressive life-saving therapeutic procedures. This article reviews the current opinions and literature about the use of emergency ultrasound during resuscitation of nontraumatic cardiac arrest. Cardiac and lung ultrasound have a great potential in identifying the reversible mechanical causes of pulseless electrical activity or asystole. Brief examination of the heart can even detect a real cardiac standstill regardless of electrical activity displayed on the monitor, which is a crucial prognostic indicator. Moreover, ultrasound can be useful to verify and monitor the tracheal tube placement. Limitation to the use of ultrasound is the need to minimize the no-flow intervals during mechanical cardiopulmonary resuscitation. However, real-time ultrasound can be successfully applied during brief pausing of chest compression and first pulse-check. Finally, lung sonographic examination targeted to the detection of signs of pulmonary congestion has the potential to allow hemodynamic noninvasive monitoring before and after mechanical cardiopulmonary maneuvers.

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