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Pediatric Emergency Playbook

You make tough calls when caring for acutely ill and injured children. Join us for strategy and support, through clinical cases, research and reviews, and best-practice guidance in our ever-changing acute-care landscape. This is your Pediatric Emergency Playbook.
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Aug 1, 2017

Abdominal pain is common; so are strongly held myths and legends about what is concerning, and what is not.

 

One of our largest responsibilities in the Emergency Department is sorting out benign from surgical or medical causes of abdominal pain.  Morbidity and mortality varies by age and condition.  

Abdominal Surgical Emergencies in Children: A Relative Timeline

General Advice

Neonate (birth to one month)

Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Pneumatosis Intestinalis.

Essentials:

  • Typically presents in 1st week of life (case reports to 6 months in chronically ill children)
  • Extend suspicion longer in NICU graduates
  • Up to 10% of all cases of necrotizing enterocolitis are in full-term children
  • Pathophysiology is unknown, but likely a translocation of bacteria

Diagnosis:

  • Feeding intolerance, abdominal distention
  • Abdominal XR: pneumatosis intestinalis

Management:

  • IV access, NG tube, broad-spectrum antibiotics, surgery consult, ICU admission

Intestinal Malrotation with Volvulus

Essentials:

Corkscrew Sign in Malrotation with Volvulus
  • Bilious vomiting (80-100%) in the 1st month; especially in the 1st week
  • May look well initially, then rapidly present in shock
  • Ladd’s bands: abnormally high tethering of cecum to abdominal wall; peristalsis, volvulus, ischemia

Diagnosis:

  • History of bilious emesis is sufficient to involve surgeons
  • Upper GI series: corkscrew appearance
  • US (if ordered) may show abnormal orientation of and/or flow to superior mesenteric artery and vein

Management:

  • Stat surgical consult
  • IV access, resuscitation, NG tube to decompress (bowel wall perfusion at risk, distention worsens)

Hirschprung Disease

Essentials:

  • Problem in migration of neural crest cells
  • Aganglionic colon (80% rectosigmoid; 15-20% proximal to sigmoid; 5% total colonic aganglionosis) colon (known as short-segment disease)
  • Poor to no peristalsis: constipation, perforation, and/or sepsis

Diagnosis:

  • May be diagnosed early as “failure to pass meconium in 1st 48 hours”
  • In ED, presents as either bowel obstruction or enterocolitis
  • Contrast enema
  • Beware of the toxic megacolon (vomiting, distention, sepsis)

Management:

  • Resuscitation, antibiotics, NG tube decompression, surgical consultation; stable patients may need rectal biopsy for confirmation
  • Staged surgery (abdominoperineal pull-through with diverting colostomy, subsequent anastomosis) versus one-stage repair.

Infant and Toddler (1 month to 2 years)

Pyloric Stenosis

Essentials:

  • Hypertrophy of pyloric sphincter; genetic, environmental, exposure factorsString Sign in Pyloric Stenosis.

Diagnosis:

  • Hungry, hungry, not-so-hippos; they want to eat all of the time, but cannot keep things down
  • Poor weight gain (less than 20-30 g/day)
  • US: “π–loric stenosis” (3.14); pylorus dimensions > 3 mm x 14 mm
  • UGI: “string sign”

Management:

  • Trial of medical treatment with oral atropine via NGT (muscarinic effects decrease pyloric tone)
  • Ramstedt pyloromyotomy (definitive)

Intussusception

Essentials:

  • Majority (90%) ileocolic; no pathological lead point
  • Small minority (4%) ileoileocolic due to lead point: Meckel’s diverticulum, polyp, Peyer’s patches, Henoch-Schönlein purpura (intestinal hematoma)

Diagnosis:

Target Sign (Donut Sign).
  • Ultrasound sensitivity and specificity near 100% in experienced hands
  • Abdominal XR may show non-specific signs; used mainly to screen for perforation before reduction

Management:

  • Hydrostatic enema: contrast (barium or water-soluble contrast with fluoroscopy) or saline (with ultrasound)
  • Air-contrast enema: air or carbon dioxide (with either fluoroscopy or ultrasound); higher risk for perforation than hydrostatic (1% risk), but generally safer than perforation from contrast
  • Consider involving surgical service early (precaution before reduction)
  • Traditional disposition is admission; controversial: home discharge from ED

Young Child and Older (2 years and up)

Appendicitis

Essentials:

  • Appendicitis occurs in all ages, but rarer in infants. Infants do not have fecalith; rather they have some other anatomic or congenital condition. 
  • More common in school-aged children (5-12 years) and adolescents
  • Younger children present atypically, more likely to have perforated when diagnosed.

Diagnosis:

  • Non-specific signs and symptoms
  • Often have abdominal pain first; vomiting comes later
  • Location/orientation of appendix varies
  • Appendicitis scores vary in their performance
  • Respect fever and abdominal pain

 

Management:

  • Traditional: surgical
  • On the horizon: identification of low-risk children who may benefit from trial of antibiotics
  • If perforated, interval appendectomy (IV antibiotics via PICC for 4-6 weeks, then surgery)

Obstruction

SBO. Incarcerated Inguinal Hernia.

Essentials:

  • Same pathophysiology and epidemiology as adults: “ABC” – adhesions, “bulges” (hernias), and cancer.

Diagnosis:

  • Obstruction is a sign of another condition. Look for cause of obstruction: surgical versus medical
  • Abdominal XR in low pre-test probability
  • CT abdomen/pelvis for moderate-to-high risk; confirmation and/or surgical planning

Management:

  • Treat underlying cause
  • NG tube to low intermittent wall suction
  • Admission, fluid management, serial examinations

 

Take these pearls home:

  • Consider surgical pathology early in encounter
  • Resuscitate while you investigate
  • Have a low threshold for imaging and/or consultation, especially in preverbal children

 

Selected References

Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Neu J, Walker A. Necrotizing Enterocolitis. N Eng J Med. 2011; 364(3):255-264.

Niño DF et al. Necrotizing enterocolitis: new insights into pathogenesis and mechanisms. Nature. 2016; 13:590-600.

Walsh MC et al. Necrotizing Enterocolitis: A Practitioner’s Perspective. Pediatr Rev. 1988; 9(7):219-226.

Malrotation with Midgut Volvulus

Applegate KE. Intestinal Malrotation in Children: A Problem-Solving Approach to the Upper Gastrointestinal Series. Radiographics. 2006; 26:1485-1500.

Kapfer SA, Rappold JF. Intestinal Malrotation – Not Just the Pediatric Surgeon’s Problem. J Am Coll Surg. 2004; 199(4):628-635.

Lee HC et al. Intestinal Malrotation and Catastrophic Volvulus in Infancy. J Emerg Med. 2012; 43(1):49-51.

Martin V, Shaw-Smith C. Review of genetic factors in intestinal malrotation. Pediatr Surg Int. 2010; 26:769-781.

Nehra D, Goldstein AM. Intestinal malrotation: Varied clinical presentation from infancy through adulthood. Surgery. 2010; 149(3):386-391.

Hirschprung Disease

Amiel J, Sproat-Emison E, Garcia-Barcelo M, et al. Hirschsprung disease, associated syndromes and genetics: a review. J Med Genet 2008; 45:1.

Arshad A, Powell C, Tighe MP. Hirschsprung's disease. BMJ 2012; 345:e5521.

Aworanti OM, McDowell DT, Martin IM, Quinn F. Does Functional Outcome Improve with Time Postsurgery for Hirschsprung Disease? Eur J Pediatr Surg 2016; 26:192.

Clark DA. Times of first void and first stool in 500 newborns. Pediatrics 1977; 60:457.

Dasgupta R, Langer JC. Evaluation and management of persistent problems after surgery for Hirschsprung disease in a child. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2008; 46:13.

De Lorijn F, Reitsma JB, Voskuijl WP, et al. Diagnosis of Hirschsprung's disease: a prospective, comparative accuracy study of common tests. J Pediatr 2005; 146:787.

Doig CM. Hirschsprung's disease and mimicking conditions. Dig Dis 1994; 12:106.

Khan AR, Vujanic GM, Huddart S. The constipated child: how likely is Hirschsprung's disease? Pediatr Surg Int 2003; 19:439.

Singh SJ, Croaker GD, Manglick P, et al. Hirschsprung's disease: the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit's experience. Pediatr Surg Int 2003; 19:247.

Suita S, Taguchi T, Ieiri S, Nakatsuji T. Hirschsprung's disease in Japan: analysis of 3852 patients based on a nationwide survey in 30 years. J Pediatr Surg 2005; 40:197.

Sulkowski JP, Cooper JN, Congeni A, et al. Single-stage versus multi-stage pull-through for Hirschsprung's disease: practice trends and outcomes in infants. J Pediatr Surg 2014; 49:1619.

Pyloric Stenosis

Aspelund G, Langer JC. Current management of hypertrophic pyloric stenosis. Semin Pedaitr Surg. 2007; 16:27-33.

Dias SC et al. Hypertrophic pyloric stenosis: tips and tricks for ultrasound diagnosis. Insights Imaging. 2012; 3:247-250.

Kawahara H et al. Medical treatment of infantile hypertrophic pyloric stenosis: should we always slice the olive? J Pediatr Surg. 2005; 40:1848-1851.

Mack HC. Adult Hypertrophic Pyloric Stenosis. Arch Inter Med. 1959; 104:78-83.

Meissner PE et al. Conservative treatment of infantile hypertrophic pyloric stenosis with intravenous atropine sulfate does not replace pyloromyotomy. Pediatr Surg Int. 2006; 22:1021-1024.

Mercer AE, Phillips R. Can a conservative approach to the treatment of hypertrophic pyloric stenosis with atropine be considered a real alternative to pyloromyotomy? Arch Dis Child. 2013; 95(6): 474-477.

Pandya S, Heiss K, Pyloric Stenosis in Pediatric Surgery.Surg Clin N Am. 2012; 92:527-39.

Peters B et al. Advances in infantile hypertrophic pyloric stenosis. Expert Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2014; 8(5):533-541.

Intussusception

Apelt N et al. Laparoscopic treatment of intussusception in children: A systematic review. J Pediatr Surg. 2013; 48:1789-1793.

Applegate KE. Intussusception in Children: Imaging Choices. Semin Roentgenol. 2008; 15-21.

Bartocci M et al. Intussusception in childhood: role of sonography on diagnosis and treatment. J Ultrasound. 2015; 18 Gilmore AW et al. Management of childhood intussusception after reductiion by enema. Am J Emerg Med. 2011; 29:1136-1140.:205-211.

Chien M et al. Management of the child after enema-reduced intussusception: hospital or home? J Emerg Med. 2013; 44(1):53-57.

Cochran AA et al. Intussusception in traditional pediatric, nontraditional pediatric, and adult patients. Am J Emerg Med. 2011; 523-527.

Loukas M et al. Intussusception: An Anatomical Perspective With Review of the Literature. Clin Anatomy. 2011; 24: 552-561.

Mendez D et al. The diagnostic accuracy of an abdominal radiograph with signs and symptoms of intussusception. Am J Emerg Med. 2012; 30:426-431.

Whitehouse et al. Is it safe to discharge intussusception patients after successful hydrostatic reduction? J Pediatr Surg. 2010; 45:1182-1186.

Appendicitis

Amin P, Chang D. Management of Complicated Appendicitis in the Pediatrc Population: When Surgery Doesn’t Cut it. Semin Intervent Radiol. 2012; 29:231-236

Blakely ML et al. Early vs Interval Appendectomy for Children With Perforated Appendicitis. Arch Surg. 2011; 146(6):660-665.

Bundy DG et al. Does This Child Have Appendicitis? JAMA. 2007; 298(4):438-451.

Cohen B et al. The non-diagnostic ultrasound in appendicitis: is a non-visualized appendix the same as a negative study? J Pediatr Surg. 2015 Jun;50(6):923-7

Herliczek TW et al. Utility of MRI After Inconclusive Ultrasound in Pediatric Patients with Suspected Appendicitis. AJT. 2013; 200:969-973.

Janitz et al. Ultrasound Evaluation for Appendicitis. J Am Osteopath Coll Radiol. 2016; 5(1):5-12.

Kanona H et al. Stump Appendicitis: A Review. Int J Surg. 2012; 10:4255-428.

Kao LS et al. Antibiotics vs Appendectomy for Uncomplicated Acute Appendicitis. Evid Based Rev Surg. 2013;216(3):501-505.

Petroianu A. Diagnosis of acute appendicitis. Int J Surg. 2012; 10:115-119.

Mazeh H et al. Tip appendicitis: clinical implications and management. Amer J Surg. 2009; 197:211-215.

Puig S et al. Imaging of Appendicitis in Children and Adolescents. Semin Roentgenol. 2008; 22-28.

Schizas AMP, Williams AB. Management of complex appendicitis. Surgery. 2010; 28(11):544-548.

Shogilev DJ et al. Diagnosing Appendicitis: Evidence-Based Review. West J Emerg Med. 2014; 15(4):859-871.

Wray CJ et al. Acute Appendicitis: Controversies in Diagnosis and Management. Current Problems in Surgery. 2013; 50:54-86

Intestinal Obstruction

Babl FE et al. Does nebulized lidocaine reduce the pain and distress of nasogastric tube insertion in young children? A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Pediatrics. 2009 Jun;123(6):1548-55

Chinn WM, Zavala DC, Ambre J. Plasma levels of lidocaine following nebulized aerosol administration. Chest 1977;71(3):346-8.

Cullen L et al. Nebulized lidocaine decreases the discomfort of nasogastric tube insertion: a randomized, double-blind trial. Ann Emerg Med. 2004 Aug;44(2):131-7.

Gangopadhyay AN, Wardhan H. Intestinal obstruction in children in India. Pediatr Surg Int. 1989; 4:84-87.

Hajivassiliou CA. Intestinal Obstruction in Neonatal/Pediatric Surgery. Semin Pediatr Surg. 2003; 12(4):241-253.

Hazra NK et al. Acute Intestinal Obstruction in children: Experience in a Tertiary Care Hospital. Am J Pub Health Res. 2015; 3(5):53-56.

Kuo YW et al. Reducing the pain of nasogastric tube intubation with nebulized and atomized lidocaine: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2010 Oct;40(4):613-20.  .

Pediatric Surgery

Irish MS et al. The Approach to Common Abdominal Diagnoses in Infants and Children. Pedaitr Clin N Am. 1998; 45(4):729-770.

Louie JP. Essential Diagnosis of Abdominal Emergencies in the First Year of Life. Emerg Med Clin N Am. 2007; 25:1009-1040.

McCullough M, Sharieff GQ. Abdominal surgical emergencies in infants and young children. Emerg Med Clin N Am. 2003; 21:909-935.

Pepper VK et al. Diagnosis and Management of Pediatric Appendicitis, Intussusception, and Meckel Diverticulum. Surg Clin N Am. 2012

 

This post and podcast are dedicated to Mr Ross Fisher for his passion and spirit of collaboration in all things #FOAMed.  Thank you, sir!

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