Podcast 91 – Treatment of Aortic Dissection

Aortic Dissection

Lower Dp/Dt and Blood Pressure

Control Pain with fentanyl

Control Heart Rate/Inotropy with esmolol


Control Blood Pressure

With in order of preference: clevidipine, nicardipine, nitroprusside, nitroglycerin

What about if the patient can’t get beta-blockers?

What about labetalol?


Why is the Patient’s Blood Pressure Low?

  • Myocardial Infarction

Andy Neill thankfully addressed my erroneous assumption that MIs in Dissection would only be right coronary infarctions

Does an anterior STEMI rule out dissection? – Emergency Medicine Ireland

and check out this article as well (J Emerg Trauma Shock 2011;4:273-278)

  • Site of Blood Pressure Measurement

  • Rupture of the Aorta

  • Aortic Insufficiency

  • Pericardial Tamponade



Do a high-icp/vascular intubation (More to come on this)


(2) PK SMACC-talks (the deadline has been extended)
entries so far: http://smacc.net.au/category/pk-talk/


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  1. larry says

    Hi Scott,
    Great podcast as always, the dosing information for esmolol and nicardipine are great and need to be disseminated through the nursing world. I am quite looking forward to the ICP/vascular intubation series. In my personal experience with video guided intubations, I am not very impressed with the success rates. Mainly from the loss of depth perception, my opinion, as well as the fact EVERYONE moves eyes from the pateint to the video monitor. I feel as if DL is quicker and more efficient. I look forward to your podcast and views

  2. Hosam says

    very intersting podcast. you gave us multiple choices of drugs that we can use, because we dont have much here in Egypt

    • says

      Evidence is clear–there is no evidence. It would be a great trial for someone to do. Until then you listed 3 papers, all looking at the same evidence. 2 came to 1 conclusion; the other 1 another.

  3. Jeff says

    Scott, another very informative podcast. The scenerio you gave was a 30 year old male. Is this not a very unusual case age wise? I know males have more instances of AD than females, but 30 years old……….? Was this a genetic issue with the young man? Also can you let us know how he did post operatively? Thanks again.

    • Jeff says

      I work in a 15-bed ED in a semi-rural community ED. The last 5 TAD’s I’ve taken care of have all been < 65 years old. The most recent was a 34 year old farmer that syncopized, and then crawled 100 yards to his house where he called EMS. He took out his aortic root to his right renal! At least he told me "Somebody stabbed me in the chest," as a hint!

  4. Cherinor Sillah says

    Hi Scott,
    I listen to your podcast on Thursday on aortic dissection . It was great. I just Had similar case this AM in a 34 years male that came with chest pain/sob . D- dimer was elevated and CTA shows dissecting aortic. Pt had no obvious risk factor. My nurses was furious when I said to start esmolol while Pt 131/55 and heart rate 55. But heart rate increase to 83 later . Do you know want was etiology of your patient dissection ? Any comment ?

      • Mike P., EMT-P says

        Shortly after listening to your podcast on the way to work, we’re heading out to transport a mid-40’s male to a tertiary center who was suffering an aortic dissection (non-Marfanoid as well, but with a similar aged sibling who had suffered and survived the issue years earlier). He presented to a community ED three hours earlier with searing back pain and right lower extremity tingling. He had received just under a liter of crystalloid and a couple doses of morphine prior to our arrival (his blood pressure and heart rate were slightly above our threshold for control, so Fentanyl, Esmolol, and Nicardipine were instituted with good effect during a fortunately unremarkable transport).

        His mental status was an interesting aspect of this case. Initially, his strange behavior was attributed to the morphine doses, but he answered all orientation questions appropriately. He was occasionally asking to sleep, but mostly restless and perseverating like a patient who had suffered a head injury. We had a few thoughts on this (CVA, cerebral hypoperfusion), but I was wondering your take. (After we transferred care, we were fortunate enough to look over a few surgeon’s shoulders and look at the CT which showed a Stanford A dissection, involving the innominate, likely dissecting to the mesentery, and “taking off” the right renal artery.) Thanks for any insight you can provide!

  5. Lakshay Chanana says

    Hi Scott..
    I remember last time when I had a patient with AD I used IV Labetalol but it did not work..and finally when Cardiology Residents admitted him they said its dissection you can’t do anything about the BP and he started a GTN drip at 2.5mcg!!

  6. Scott Gallagher says

    Thanks for this awesome review of agents for treatment of AD. Often making/suspecting the diagnosis is a greater challenge than controlling dP/dt.

    Had recent case of 44 yo short-stature Asian male with no PMH and CC of mild epigastric pain completely resolved with one bolus of 25 Fentanyl while initiating work up for presumed dyspepsia. No ETOH hx. Vitals normal. And, oh by the way slight numbness one leg resolved prior to arrival.

    D-dimer ordered in error by unit clerk was 15 ug/mL
    (0-0.5 nl). Of course, CT showed Type A dissection on CT scan. Pt did well afer surgery, but often freaks me out how minimal and non-specific initial symptoms can be.

    Love to hear your take on utilitiy of D-dimer as screen for AD. Heard recent Essentials talk that not a reliable screen, but hard to CT every non-specific abdominal pain, particularly in otherwise healthy young patients.

    While perhaps not perfectly sensitive, my experience is best to pay attention to super high d-dimer results.

    • says

      I think your observations jibe with mine, but until there is published data we can’t determine the variable specificity of high d-dimers. Until ACEP or AHA write a clin. policy stating a negative d-dimer rules out AD in low risk patients, I would be wary to use it that way.

  7. Dr Wolf says

    Have not seen any articles showing clevidipine being associated with different outcomes vs. nicardipine. Other than being slightly easier infuse, we don’t use it because it is expensive and is prepared in a lipid emulsion with the same issues of prolonged infusion as propopfol.

    • says

      It is because it is expensive that nicardipine remains on the market. When clevidipine costs the same, nicardipine disappears. The problems with prolonged propofol relate to prop infusion syndrome; I look at the lipids as a plus.

  8. Kevin M says


    Great Podcast as usual. Question, comment and case.

    1. In the woman who upped her BP with withdrawal of 4 ml of blood, do you think the bump might have been related to a catecholamine surge from the porcedure?

    2. I’ve seen about 15 TAD’s over the years and most are the ones the nurses make snide remarks as they put the chart in the rack. You know, “This lady is acting like a big time drug seeker, saying she has chest pain, back pain, Abd pain and she’s just acting crazy.

    3. Had a 30 Y.O male, smoked, no other risk factors. Had classic ACS symptoms and an EKG that showed inferior STEMI. Nothing to suggest TAD. Activated cath lab, started all the usual, including heparin, and then looked at the CXR. Mediastinum was wider than I was comfortable with so, I sent him over for a stat CTA before the cath lab arrived. Looked at the images. Dude was dissecting from stem to stern. Had protamine on way from pharmacy and Surgery team en route by the time he arrived. Did OK, Lucky him, AND Me!

  9. Cynthia says

    Hi Scott,
    Just got around to this one now – great talk. In our ICU (I’m ED/ICU doctor in Australia), the only IV antihypertensives we have are esmolol (which we are actively discouraged in using because of $$), gtn, and snip… we will also often use IV labetolol infusions and Hydralazine infusions. I hadn’t heard the argument that labetolol has more negative inotropy than negative chronotropy, but I can say in my little experience it rarely achieves a good beta-blocking effect and always requires supplemental treatment. We have no short-acting dihyrdopyrdines at all. However, this said: everyone I work with clinically argues against esmolol alone as a starting therapy. The physiological reason being that hypertension (often extreme) in unruptured dissection is commonly due to poor renal blood flow. This means that the systemic vascular resistance is already maxed out because of the powerful RAA activation trying to get blood passed the point of dissection. The heart rate has increased both from sympathetic drive and to maintain cardiac output in the presence of high SVR. By administering a beta-blocker, one could theoretically increase SVR by an unopposed beta-2 receptor blockade within the peripheral vasculature. They argue in my unit that with esmolol, one may achieve a better blood pressure but one does this by decreasing inotropy and chronotropy but sacrifice an increase SVR – which isn’t good for an already blood starved kidney or a dissection??
    Thanks again!

    • says

      Cynthia, I’m not sure I understand their arguments at all. The bedrock of management of both dissection and traumatic rupture is to limit how many beats hit the area of aortic disruption. Any theoretical problem with beta-2 will be addressed with a vasodilator if the pressure is not addressed by esmolol alone.


  1. […] Podcast: Play in new window | Download (22.1MB) | Embed […]

  2. […] Commento personaleLa prima considerazione da fare è che, per quanto mi è dato di sapere, la nicardipina nella formulazione endovena non è disponibile in Italia. Allora perchè interessarsi a questo articolo?Il motivo secondo me è duplice. Il primo è che la nicardipina sta prendendo sempre più piede come farmaco da utilizzare sia nelle emergenze ipertensive, sia in alcune situazioni come la dissecazione aortica, prendendo il posto del meno maneggevole nitroprussiato. Si veda al riguardo, o meglio si ascolti,  il post di emcrit sull’argomento http://emcrit.org/podcasts/aortic-dissection/ […]

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