Miss Campbell is a 48 year old female who has presented to A&E after developing chest pain at home. Work through the case to reach a diagnosis and form a management plan.
“I’m really scared doctor, I’ve had chest pain for the last 2 hours and I’m feeling out of breath!”
- Have you experienced chest pain in the past? Was it like this?
- Use SOCRATES to gain details of the chest pain
- Site – Where is the chest pain?
- Did it come on suddenly or gradually?
- What were you doing at the time of onset?
- What kind of pain is this? (sharp / aching / crushing)
- Is it continuous or intermittent?
- Radiation – Does the pain move anywhere else?
- Associated symptoms – Are there any other symptoms that seem associated? (e.g. shortness of breath)
- Timing – When exactly did it start? / How long has it lasted?
- Exacerbating / relieving factors – Does anything make it better or worse?
- Is it worse on deep inspiration?
- Is it worse lying down and made better leaning forward?
- Is it worsened by exertion?
- Severity – On a scale of 1-10 how bad is the pain? Has it gotten better or worse?
Shortness of breath:
- When did the shortness of breath start? Did it coincide with the chest pain?
- Are you short of breath at rest or only during exertion?
- Have you ever experienced shortness of breath in the past?
- Have you had a cough or fevers in the last few weeks?
- Is the chest pain associated with breathing in?
- Have you noticed any wheezing?
- Any contact with others who are unwell recently?
- Any recent long haul travel, surgery or prolonged periods of immobility?
“I’ve never had any chest pain like this in the past doctor, nothing like this at all! It’s on the left side of my chest and it’s really really sharp. It came on suddenly whilst I was on the toilet and has remained pretty severe since, I’d say about 7/10. It doesn’t move anywhere else but it’s definitely made worse when I take a deep breath, it’s probably 9/10 when I do that. Since the pain started I’ve also been feeling short of breath, I’m not sure it came on at exactly the same time, but it was pretty close. Lying down, leaning forward and exertion don’t seem to make much of a difference to the pain, but I do get more short of breath when I exert myself.”
“I feel a little short of breath when I’m at rest like this, but it gets a lot worse when I’m walking. I’m normally pretty fit, I manage to get to the shop and back, which is up a hill, without stopping or feeling short of breath. I haven’t had any illnesses in the last few weeks as far as I know and I don’t think I’ve been in contact with anyone else who is unwell. I haven’t noticed any wheezing but I did have some surgery about 3 weeks ago, a laparoscopic hysterectomy for all the fibroids that were causing me trouble. I haven’t been on any holidays in years, I wish I had!”
Past medical history:
- Cardiac conditions?
- Respiratory conditions?
- Thromboembolic disorders?
- Other medical problems?
- Regular medication?
- Antiplatelets or anticoagulants?
- Contraceptive pill or hormonal replacement therapy?
- Over the counter drugs?
- Recreational drugs?
- Living situation
- Smoking status
- Recent travel? – particularly any areas of high TB prevalence
- Any other symptoms in other body systems? – weight loss etc
“I have some arthritis in one of my knees, but it doesn’t cause me too much trouble, then I’ve got the fibroids, but I guess they’re gone now. Other than that, I’m pretty well, I don’t even have any allergies!”
“I take some paracetamol and ibuprofen for my knee when it’s bad. No contraceptive pill for me, I’m well past that stage and thankfully haven’t needed any hormonal replacement therapy either.”
“I live with my husband in a flat and neither of us smokes. We used to have a dog but she died last year sadly. My only hobby is selling handmade terrariums on Etsy, does that count?”
“I haven’t travelled anywhere in years and I’ve not got any other symptoms that I’m aware of.”
An ABCDE approach would be the most appropriate way to carry out the initial assessment to ensure the patient is stable.
The patient is able to speak to you in full sentences, therefore her airway is patent.
O2 saturation on air – 89%
Respiratory rate – 22
Give high flow oxygen via a nonrebreather mask – the patient is hypoxic (aim sats >94%)
Auscultate the lungs to assess air entry – a pleural rub is heard over the right lower lobe
BP – 130/82
Pulse – 132 – regular
CRT – < 2 seconds
Gain IV access
- pH- 7.36
- PaO2 = 8.00kPa (↓)
- PaCO2 = 5.5 kPa
- Bicarbonate – 23
ECG – shows sinus tachycardia
GCS – 15
Pupils equal and reactive to light.
Normal power in all four limbs.
No evidence of external bleeding.
Healing port site wounds from laparoscopic hysterectomy noted (they appear healthy).
Calves are soft and non-tender.
After you place the patient on 15L of high flow oxygen, O2 saturations increase to 94% and her respiratory rate decreases to 19.
Acute coronary syndrome
Repeat baseline observations:
- Heart rate
- Respiratory rate
- Oxygen saturations
ECG – ?ischaemic changes
- Clotting (hypercoagulability)
- D-dimer (PE/DVT) – useful to rule out thromboembolic disease
- Troponin T (MI)
Chest X-ray – ?pneumothorax / ?consolidation
CT Pulmonary Angiogram (CTPA) – gold standard for diagnosis of PE
Doppler of calves – if deep vein thrombosis is suspected clinically
- Heart rate – 122 BPM
- Respiratory rate – 20
- Oxygen saturations – 91%
- Blood pressure – 128/72
- Temperature – 36.5
ECG – sinus tachycardia
FBC – unremarkable
Clotting – normal
U&E – normal
LFT – normal
D-dimer – raised
Troponin – negative
Doppler – negative
CTPA – pulmonary embolus visualised in left pulmonary artery
The Wells’ score takes various risk factors into account to predict the likelihood of PE²
Clinically suspected DVT – 3 points
Alternative diagnosis less likely than PE – 3 points
Tachycardia – 1.5 points
Immobilisation / surgery in previous 4 weeks – 1.5 points
History of DVT or PE – 1.5 points
Haemoptysis – 1 point
Malignancy (treatment in previous 6 months or palliative stage) – 1 point
Miss Campbell’s score = 6
Interpretation of score
>4 = PE likely
≤4 = PE unlikely
- Well’s score suggests “Likely PE“
- Start Vitamin K antagonist (e.g. Warfarin) – aiming for an INR of 2-3
- Once INR is in the target range discontinue LMWH
- Provoked pulmonary embolism (as in this scenario) – offer a Vitamin K antagonist (VKA) to patients with confirmed PE within 24 hours of diagnosis and continue for 3 months. At 3 months, assess the risks and benefits of continuing VKA treatment.
- Unprovoked pulmonary embolism – offer a VKA long term to patients, taking into account the patient’s risk of VTE recurrence and whether they are at increased risk of bleeding. Discuss with the patient the benefits and risks of extending their VKA treatment.
- Pregnant patients should remain on LMWH as warfarin is teratogenic
- Patients with cancer are usually treated with treatment dose LMWH as INR control is difficult to achieve when patients are undergoing chemotherapy. In addition patients with cancer are often at higher risk of bleeding on anticoagulation.
- Underlying cancer should be ruled out – CXR / Blood testing / Urinalysis / CT scan
- Antiphospholipid syndrome testing
- Hereditary thrombophilia testing (if patient has first degree relative with DVT / PE)
1. Goldhaber SZ (2005). “Pulmonary thromboembolism”. In Kasper DL, Braunwald E, Fauci AS, et al.. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine (16th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. pp. 1561–65. ISBN 0-071-39140-1.