Waveform Capnography

capnography Waveform capnography is a commonly used monitor in the operating room, and is increasingly seen in non-operating room environments too! The capnographic waveform can be described as having several phases:

  • Phase 0 (inspiratory baseline) represents the inspiratory phase of the respiratory cycle.
  • Phase 1 is the initial part of expiration, when dead space gases are being exhaled. Since the exhaled gas in this phase did not take part in gas exchange, the PCO2 is 0.
  • Phase 2 (expiratory upstroke) involves exhaled gases from alveoli reaching the detector. There is a sharp rise in PCO2 during this phase.
  • Phase 3 is a (more or less) flat plateau showing continued exhalation of alveolar gas. The last, maximal part of this phase is the end-tidal point (ETCO2), which is usually 35-40 mmHg. ETCO2 tends to be 2-5 mmHg lower than PaCO2, though this difference can be increased/decreased under a variety of conditions, such as ventilation-perfusion mismatch.

The shape of the capnograph waveform can tell you a lot!

For example:

  1. A slanting upslope can represent airway obstruction (e.g., chronic obstructed pulmonary disease, bronchospasm, blocked endotracheal tube).
  2. In patients paralyzed with a neuromuscular blocker, as the paralytic wears off they may try to breathe asynchronously against the ventilator, producing a notch called a curare cleft.’
  3. Quantitative capnography during resuscitation can be very useful. During CPR, there should be a visible waveform during high quality chest compressions; its absence may indicate accidental esophageal intubation
  4. A sudden loss is bad, as it means that the tube is fully obstructed or disconnected or that there has been a sudden loss of circulation
  5. You can also just simply tell is someone is hypo- or hyperventilating

  • Dorsch JA, Dorsch SE. 2007. Gas monitoring. In: Understanding anesthesia equipment (Dorsch and Dorsch, Eds.) Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia PA.
  • Kodali BS. 2013. Capnography outside the operating rooms. Anesthesiology; 118:192.

Tumescent Solution (for burn surgery and liposuction and other things too)


Tumescent solution is also called “Klein’s Solution” after the physician who characterized the recipe and the use of it.

It’s called “tumescent” because it makes things tumescent, which is a fancy word for swollen. Tumescent is a dilute solution of lidocaine, epinephrine, and sodium bicarbonate that is injected in the subcutaneous tissue (fat). The epinephrine is the most important ingredient as it causes vasoconstriction, this means that the blood loss that could be a big problem for large procedures like burn surgery and liposuction becomes much less of a big deal.

The other interesting thing is that since fat is relatively avascular compared to other tissues, the “safe amount” of tumescent is much higher than what is normally stated for injections of lidocaine or epinephrine.

For example, it was reported by Klein that the toxic dose of lidocaine for tumescent solution is 35 mg/kg of body weight.

There are a few different recipes for tumescent anesthesia, the one presented in the doodle is the one first outlined by Klein, some use more or less lidocaine or epinephrine.


  1. Kucera IJ1, Lambert TJ, Klein JA, Watkins RG, Hoover JM, Kaye AD. Liposuction: contemporary issues for the anesthesiologist. J Clin Anesth. 2006, 18(5): 379-87.
  2. Klein JA. The tumescent technique. Anesthesia and modified liposuction technique. Dermatol Clin. 1990, 8(3): 425-37.
  3. Klein JA. Tumescent technique for local anesthesia improves safety in large-volume liposuction. Plast Reconstr Surg. 1993, 92: 1085-100.

Carpal Bone Ossification


The carpal bone ossify aka turn into bone aka magically become visible on an x-ray in a predictable order.

The easiest way to remember is that it starts at the capitate (smack dab in the middle) and then goes in a ulnarly-directed spiral. I was going to say “clockwise” or “counter-clockwise” but that would depend on which side of which hand you were looking at. So capitate, followed by hamate and then down to triquetrum and so on. Except for the pisiform, being a sesamoid bone it gets left behind and only develops years later.

  1. Capitate: 1-3 months
  2. Hamate: 2-4 months
    1. Distal radius: 1 year
  3. Triquetrum: 2-3 years
  4. Lunate: 2-4 years
  5. Scaphoid: 4-6 years
  6. Trapezium: 4-6 years
  7. Trapezoid: 4-6 years
    1. Distal ulna: 5-6 years
  8. Pisiform: 8-12 years

I included the distal radius and distal ulna in there for good measure.

I know I could have been fancier with changing the length of the metacarpals or their growth plates, but it was more fun to make the animated gif.

Jugular Venous Pulse (JVP)

jvpThe jugular venous pulse/pressure (JVP) is a favourite topic on the wards!

The jugular veins fill with blood and pulsate in relation to filling in the right atrium. Since the JVP correlates well with central venous pressure, it’s used as an indirect marker of intravascular fluid status.

Traditionally, the right internal jugular (IJ) vein is used in JVP measurement; it’s preferred since it is directly in line with the superior vena cava and right atrium. The external jugular (EJ) vein is not commonly used to assess the JVP because it has more valves and an indirect course to the right atrium, but EJ is easier to see than IJ, and JVP measurements from both sites correlate fairly well. The left-sided jugular veins are also uncommonly used, since they can be inadvertently compressed by other structures and thus be less accurate!

Learners on the ward are often asked how to identify the JVP and distinguish it from carotid artery pulsations. The mnemonic POLICE describes the distinguishing features of the JVP:

  • Palpation: The carotid pulse is easy felt but the JVP is not.
  • Occlusion: Gentle pressure applied above the clavicle will dampen the JVP but will not affect the carotid pulse.
  • Location: The IJ lies lateral to the common carotid, starting between the sternal and clavicular heads of the sternocleidomastoid (SCM), goes under the SCM, and when it emerges again can be followed up to the angle of the jaw. The EJ is easier to spot because it crosses SCM superficially.
  • Inspiration: JVP height usually goes down with inspiration (increased venous return) and is at its highest during expiration.
    • (Kussmaul’s Sign describes a paradoxical rise in JVP during inspiration that happens in right-sided heart failure or tamponade)
  • Contour: The JVP has a biphasic waveform, while carotid pulse only beats once.
  • Erection/Position: Sitting up erect will drop the meniscus of the JVP, while lying supine will increase filling of the JVP.

To measure the JVP, the patient lies supine in bed at a 30 – 45 degree angle, with their head turned slightly leftward and jaw relaxed. A hard light source (e.g., penlight) pointed tangential to the patient’s neck will accentuate the visibility of the veins. Once the highest point of JVP pulsation is seen, measure high how it is at its maximum, in terms of centimeters above the sternal angle (aka Angle of Louis, at the 2nd costal cartilage). The JVP normally is 4 cm above the sternal angle or lower; increased in fluid overload and decreased in hypovolemia.

  • Beigel R et al. 2013. Noninvasive evaluation of right atrial pressure. Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography: 26;1033.
  • Chua Chiaco JMS, Parikh NI, Fergusson DJ. 2013. The jugular venous pressure revisited. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 80;638.
  • Cook DJ, Simel DL. 1996. Does this patient have abnormal central venous pressure? Journal of the American Medical Association: 275;630.
  • Vinayak AG, Pohlman AS. 2006. Usefulness of the external jugular vein examination in detecting abnormal central venous pressure in critically ill patients. Archives of Internal Medicine: 166;2132.
  • Wang CS et al. 2005. Does this dyspneic patient in the emergency department have congestive heart failure? Journal of the American Medical Association: 294;1944.

Describing where things are on the hand


For being such a small anatomic location, people find it very difficult to describe where on the hand or digits things are actually happening when there is an injury.

I think part of it stems back to medical school when we are taught that the digits all have numbers, the thumb is D1, index D2 and so forth. The problem comes when people say “the 3rd finger” and all of the sudden one has no idea whether they are talking about the long finger (D3) or the ring finger (D4 but then, the thumb doesn’t count as a finger, does it?)

Which finger (digit?!) is which?

This is why it’s always best to call digits by their names, this even goes for metacarpals. It is totally OK, and generally less confusing to call a bone the index finger metacarpal.

  1. Thumb = D1
  2. Index = D2
  3. Long = D3
  4. Ring = D4
  5. Small = D5

Which side of the hand?

The same goes for which side of the hand the problem is on. There is no lateral or medial side to the hand. One could argue that it’s how someone is in anatomical position, so obviously the small finger side is medial, unfortunately very few people walk around in anatomic position and it’s their thumbs that point to the body.

So best to describe side by two things that stay put regardless of how someone has their hands in space: the radius and the ulna.

  • Thumb side = RADIAL
  • Small finger side = ULNAR

Finally for the top and bottom (or is it back and front) of the hands: use the terms DORSAL (where the nails are) and VOLAR (or palmar)

Clotting Cascade – NOW WITH NOACs


The clotting cascade was one of the first doodles posted on Sketchy Medicine, I’ve now updated it to include some of the Novel Oral Anticoagulants (NOACs): Dabigatran, Rivaroxaban and Apixiban.

Dabigatran (Pradaxa)

  • Selective, reversible direct thrombin inhibitor
  • Is actually a prodrug that reaches peak concentration 2-3 h post ingestion
  • Approved (in Canada) for:  Thromboprophylaxis in atrial fib, post-op, and treatment of VTE and VTE recurrence
  • T1/2: 7-17 h
  • CYP independent (not as many drug-drug interactions)
  • Excreted in urine 95% / Feces 5%
  • Reversal: hemodialysis?
  • Big trial = RELY, REMEDY

Rivaroxaban (Xarelto)

  • Selective, reversible direct factor Xa inhibitor
  • Approved (in Canada) for:  Thromboprophylaxis in atrial fib, post-op, and treatment of VTE and VTE recurrence
  • T1/2: 3-9 h (relatively speedy!)
  • CYP3A4
  • Very good oral bioavailability
  • Almost all of it is protein-bound in the serum
  • Urine 70% / Feces 30%
  • Reversal: ???? (not hemodialysis)

Apixaban (Eliquis)

  • Selective, reversible direct factor Xa inhibitor
  • Approved (in Canada) for:  Thromboprophylaxis in atrial fib, post-op, and treatment of VTE and VTE recurrence (only atrial fib in the USA)
  • T1/2: 8-15
  • CYP3A4
  • Almost all (95%) protein-bound in the serum
  • Urine 30% / Feces 70%
  • Reversal: ???? (not hemodialysis)

Reversal agents:

  • Hemodialysis
    • Only good for agents that aren’t highly protein bound (i.e. dabigatran).
    • Warfarin, rivaroxaban and apixaban are all mostly bound to protein in the serum, so dialysis won’t get rid of them
  • PCC
    • Plasma-derived product containing factors II, IX and X (3-factor PCC) or II, VII, IX and X (4-factor PCC) in addition to variable amounts of proteins C and S, and heparin
  • aPCC
    • Plasma-derived product containing activated factors II, VII, IX and X
  • Recombinant factor VIIa
    • Looks good in test tubes, clinical evidence lacking
  • Idarucizumab
    • Humanized monoclonal antibody against dabigatran
  • Andxanet alfa
    • Recombinant factor Xa derivative
    • Could theoretically be used for rivaroxaban and apixaban

Anticoagulation Assays

Effect of oral anticoagulants on coagulation assays (Jackson II & Becker, 2014)

(Adapted from Jackson II & Becker, 2014)

Approach to bleeding

Managing target-specific oral anticoagulant (Siegal, 2015)

(From Siegal, 2015)


  • Jackson II LR & Becker RC. (2014). Novel oral anticoagulants: pharmacology, coagulation measures, and considerations for reversal. Journal of Thrombosis and Thrombolysis, 37(3), 380-391.
  • Ufer M. (2010). Comparative efficacy and safety of the novel oral anticoagulants dabigatran, rivaroxaban and apixaban in preclinical and clinical development. Thrombosis and Haemostasis. 103: 572-585.
  • Siegal DM. (2015). Managing target-specific oral anticoagulant associated bleeding including an update on pharmacological reversal agents. Journal of Thrombosis and Thrombolysis, 1-8.

Streptococcal Pharyngitis


Sore throats (pharyngitis) are a common complaint in primary and emergency care settings. Most of the time, pharyngitis is caused by viral infection (most commonly rhinovirus).

Streptococcus pyogenes, aka Lancefield group A streptococci, (GAS) is the most common bacterial cause of pharyngitis. The possible complications of GAS infection include:

  • Rheumatic fever
  • Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis
  • Peritonsillar/retropharyngeal abscess
  • Otitis media
  • Mastoiditis
  • Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with Group A streptococci (PANDAS) *controversial!

Signs and symptoms

GAS pharyngitis may also include fever, chills, malaise, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or maculopapular rash (scarlet fever). Cough, coryza/rhinitis, and conjunctivitis are uncommon symptoms for GAS pharyngitis. However, clinically diagnosing GAS pharyngitis based on history and physical is incredibly unreliable, so patients with a convincing presentation would benefit from laboratory confirmation (i.e., throat culture, rapid antigen detection test of throat swab). The Centor and McIsaac criteria are useful for helping rule out GAS pharyngitis, but shouldn’t be used exclusively to diagnose it.

The Centor criteria are scored based on the presence of:

  1. Fever (subjective or >38 C)
  2. Lack of cough
  3. Tender lymphadenopathy (anterior cervical)
  4. Tonsillar exudate

The MacIsaac criteria add an extra point for patients < 14 years old (since this age group is more prone to GAS pharyngitis) and subtract a point if >45 years old. A low score on these criteria help to exclude GAS pharyngitis, but higher scores indicate a need for lab tests.

The first-line treatment for GAS pharyngitis is penicillin. Other antimicrobial agents vary between different guidelines. Guidelines vary about whether empiric treatment should be considered before lab results have confirmed a diagnosis.


  • Aalbers J et al. 2011. Predicting streptococcal pharyngitis in adults in primary care: A systematic review of the diagnostic accuracy of symptoms and signs and validation of the Centor score. BMC Medicine: 9;67.
  • Kociolek LK, Shulman ST. 2012. Pharyngitis. In: Annals of Internal Medicine: In the Clinic (Cotton D, Taichman D, Williams S, Eds.). ITC3-1.
  • Weber R. 2014. Pharyngitis. Primary Care Clinics in Office Practice: 41;91.
  • Wessels MR. 2011. Streptococcal pharyngitis. New England Journal of Medicine; 364:648.
  • Worrall G. 2011. Acute sore throat. Canadian Family Physician: 57;791.

Side Effects of Atypical Antipsychotics



Atypical (a.k.a., “second-generation”) antipsychotics are commonly used in the treatment of psychotic disorders, and mood disorders as well. Compared to typical (first-generation) antipsychotics, the atypical antipsychotics have lower affinity for dopamine D2 receptors, and they also act at serotonin (5-HT) receptors (they are antagonists for these receptors). Other neurotransmitter receptors are affected as well, and each atypical antipsychotic preferentially antagonizes different receptors.

When atypical antipsychotics were first introduced, it was hoped that they would be more effective than typical antipsychotics and have fewer extrapyramidal side effects (see below). While these expectations may have been somewhat overblown and atypicals are not markedly superior in decreasing psychosis symptoms, most atypicals certainly have a lower risk of developing extrapyramidal side effects. However, they do come with their own array of side effects.

Extrapyramidal side effects (EPSE): These are movement-related side effects caused by dopamine antagonism. These include acute dystonia (torticollis, an uncomfortable muscular spasm of the neck; as well as spasms of the eyes, tongue, jaw), akathisia (motor restlessness and a need to remain in motion), tardive dyskinesia (repetitive, involuntary movements usually involving facial muscles), parkinsonian symptoms (resting tremor, rigidity, slowed movements), and neuroleptic malignant syndrome (potentially fatal!).
Elevated prolactin (PRL): This can lead to gynecomastia (breast growth) and galactorrhea (milk-production), which can be very distressing for male patients! Can also cause infertility and sexual dysfunction. It also happens with typical antipsychotics.
Weight gain: This can be very a troublesome symptom, and may lead to diabetes in some patients.
Sedation: This may prevent patients from engaging in their usual activities and work.
Orthostatic hypotension: Drop in blood pressure after standing from sitting position.

Some antipsychotics have especially severe side effects. Clozapine, for example, is extremely effective in treating psychosis but can lead to fatal agranulocytosis (drop in white blood cells), as well as tremendous weight gain and sedation. Ziprasidone use can lead to QTc prolongation and increase the risk for serious cardiac arrhythmia.

The above chart shows the relative side effect profiles of eight atypical antipsychotics (aripiprazole, clozapine, lurasidone, olanzepine, paliperidone, quetiapine, risperidone, ziprasidon) versus two typical antipsychotics (chlorpromazine, haloperidone).

  • Haddad PM, Sharma SG. 2007. Adverse effects of atypical antipsychotics: Differential risk and clinical  implications. CNS drugs; 21:911.
  • Leucht S, Cipriani A, Spineli L, Mavridis D, Orey D, Richter F, Samara M, Barbui C, Engel RR, Geddes JR, Kissling W, Stapf MP, Lassig B, Salanti G, Davis JM. 2013. Comparative efficacy and tolerability of 15 antipsychotic drugs in schizophrenia: A multiple treatments meta-analysis. Lancet; 382:951.
  • Meltzer HY. 2013. Update on typical and atypical antipsychotic drugs. Annual Review of Medicine: 64:393.
  • Sadock BJ, Sadock VA (Eds.). 2007. Serotonin-dopamine antagonists: Atypical antipsychotics. In: Kaplan & Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia PA.

Treatment of scaphoid fractures



Scaphoid fractures are very common but due to its weird blood supply, the scaphoid is prone to not healing well (review the anatomy of the scaphoid in this doodle). This is why fractures of the scaphoid and even SUSPECTED fractures of the scaphoid are treated very conservatively.

Even if you’re suspicious of a fracture but don’t see one on x-ray, that’s enough to subject someone to a cast for 2 weeks and then bring them back to re-x-ray.

This doodle goes through the basic algorithm for treating scaphoid fractures centred around a timeline to show how long the treatment course can be. There are of course nuances to the management, so take a person’s work and hobbies and handedness into consideration. Also, don’t be afraid to consult your friendly hand/wrist specialist.

Scaphoid bone anatomy and fractures

scaphoid_fracturesThe scaphoid bone is one of the eight carpal bones of the wrist (you can check out this doodle for a refresher).

The scaphoid is the most commonly fractured carpal bone, accounting for almost 70% of fractures. It tends to be young males who break their scaphoid this is both an anatomical thing: younger kids get ligament injuries and older folks break their distal radius and a lifestyle thing: falling on outstretched hands (skateboarding, snowboarding) or throwing a punch both place a lot of force across the scaphoid leading to fractures.

The bad thing about scaphoid fractures is that the blood supply (from a branch of the radial artery) comes from distal to proximal. Since most fractures happen at the waist of the scaphoid the likelihood of having poor blood supply to the fracture site is quite high. It doesn’t help matters that around 80% of the scaphoid is articular surface (joint surface), so if it doesn’t heel well, it can lead to problems with arthritis of the wrist later on.



Scaphoid fractures present with a pretty classic story and the person is usually swollen and bruised and will have tenderness in their “snuffbox.” So even if the x-ray doesn’t show a fracture, it’s best to treat with a cast for comfort and safety and then recheck them in 2 week’s time (this will be discussed in a separate post).

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