Episode 30 – Thyroid

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This week we cover Dr. Scott Weingart’s EMCrit episode on Thyroid Storm

Diagnosis: Hyperthyroid, Fever, Altered Mental Status, Sympathetic Surge, Precipitating Event

Treatment (PPID – PTU, propranolol, iodine, dexamethasone or MIEH – methimazole, iodine, esmolol, hydrocortisone):

  • Supportive care – IV fluids, identify trigger (infection, DKA, trauma, etc)
  • Block production of thyroid hormone: Methimazole or Propothiouracil (PTU)
  • Block thyroid hormone release: Iodine (wait 60 min after giving methimazole or PTU)
  • Calm the sympathetic surge: beta-blockade (propranolol – also inhibits conversion of T4 to the more active T3, metoprolol or esmolol)
  • Block conversion of T4 to T3 and prevent adrenal insufficiency: steroids (dexamethasone, hydrocortisone)
From Rosh Review

Core Content
Rosen’s Emergency Medicine (8e) Chapter 128, Tintinalli (7e) Chapter 223

Thyroid disorders exist on a spectrum from myxedema coma to thyroid storm, with a large area in between.

Hyperthyroidism – too much thyroid hormones only from the thyroid gland

Thyrotoxicosis –  too much thyroid hormone from any cause (i.e. taking too much thyroid supplement)

Thyroid Storm – see above. Thyrotoxicosis with  increased adrenergic hyperactivity or abnormal response to the thyroid hormones by the peripheral tissues

Myxedema coma – These patients are the opposite of thyroid storm, all the systems are depressed (they are essentially hypo-everything).  The diagnosis is clinical but these patients will have significantly elevated TSH with low T3/T4.

  • Altered mental status
  • Hypothermic, <35.5°C (95.9°F)
  • Hypotensive
  • Bradycardic
  • Hyponatremic
  • Hypoglycemic

Treatment

  • Intravenous levothyroxine (T4) although endocrine may recommend that some patients get intravenous T3
  • Supportive care – passive rewarming, dextrose, intravenous fluids
  • Steroids
  • Identify underlying cause

Generously Donated Rosh Review Questions 

1. A 28-year-old woman with no past medical history presents to the emergency department with acute dyspnea. Physical exam reveals tachycardia, warm extremities, wide-pulse pressure, bounding pulses, a systolic flow murmur, exophthalmos and a neck mass. [polldaddy poll=8935230]

2. [polldaddy poll=8936552]

Answers

1. This patient most likely has high-output heart failure secondary to thyrotoxicosis. High output heart failure occurs when cardiac output is elevated in patients with reduced systemic vascular resistance. Examples include thyrotoxicosis, anemia, pregnancy, beriberi and Paget’s disease. Patients with high output heart failure usually have normal pump function, but it is not adequate to meet the high metabolic demands. In high output heart failure the heart rate is typically elevated, the pulse is usually bounding and the pulse pressure wide. Pistol-shot sounds may be auscultated over the femoral arteries, which is referred to as Traube’s sign. Subungual capillary pulsations, often referred to as Quincke’s pulse, may be also be present. Although these findings may be seen in other cardiac conditions, such as aortic regurgitation or patent ductus arteriosus, in the absence of those conditions, these signs are highly suggestive of elevated left ventricular stroke volume due to a hyperdynamic state. Patients with chronic high output also may develop signs and symptoms classically associated with the more common low-output heart failure; specifically, they may develop pulmonary or systemic venous congestion or both, while maintaining the above normal cardiac output.

Low output heart failure (C) is often secondary to ischemic heart disease, hypertension, dilated cardiomyopathy, valvular and pericardial disease or arrhythmia. It can cause dyspnea but is not associated with symptoms of a hyperdyanmic state. Aortic regurgitation (A) is classically associated with bounding pulses, a wide pulse pressure and subungual capillary pulsations; however, aortic regurgitation is less likely in a young woman with no past cardiac history. Additionally, this woman has exophthalmos and a goiter on exam, which support the diagnosis of thyrotoxicosis. Methamphetamine intoxication (D) usually presents with agitation, tachycardia, and psychosis; however, it is not associated with a hyperdynamic state, exophthalmos or a goiter.

2.  Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which there is overproduction and increased circulation of thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroidism has a variety of causes and variable presentation. Increased circulating thyroid hormone causes a hypermetabolic state and increases beta-adrenergic activity. Initially, patients may have vague constitutional symptoms. As the disease progresses, clinical manifestations may become more organ-specific. Thyrotoxicosis or thyroid storm represents the most severe manifestation of the disease. Thyroid storm is life threatening and characterized by hyperadrenergic activity. Patients present with vital sign abnormalities including tachypnea, tachycardia, hyperthermia and hypertension. ECG may show atrial dysrhythmias like atrial flutter and fibrillation or simple sinus tachycardia. High-output cardiac failure is common as well. Physical features include goiter, opthalmopathy and tremors. Patients will also have increased reflexes and altered mental status. Thyroid storm treatment involves suppression of thyroid hormone synthesis and secretion, prevention of peripheral conversion from T4 to T3 and blocking the peripheral adrenergic stimulation. Blocking the peripheral effects of thyroid hormone is best accomplished with a beta-blocker and propranolol is preferred as it also decreases conversion of T4 to T3.

Lithium (A) is a cause of hypothyroidism. In hyperthyroidism, TSH is depressed (C). Weight gain (D) is common in hypothyroidism.

Theme Music:  Flippen performed by The Punch Brothers, used with permission

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One thought on “Episode 30 – Thyroid

  1. John Mayo (@johnmayodo)

    Hey guys! Great episode, as usual.

    Something that might be helpful in picking out these thyroid storm patients is “decoding the vital signs” as mentioned by Dr. Vena Ricketts in one of the early EM:RAP episodes from waaaay back in July 2002. She mentions that, while there is a lot of overlap in the presenting symptoms of thyroid storm and the other sick patients we see everyday, we can sometimes catch these thyroid storm folks if we pick up on certain vital sign abnormalities, such as pulse-temperature dissociation in the presence of wide pulse pressure.

    For a temperature of 100 F, the HR should be about 100/min; for every degree rise in temperature from there, the HR should also rise by about 10/min (i.e. temperature of 101 F, HR should be around 110/min and so on). In thyroid storm, you will classically see HR higher than expected for the given temperature (i.e. temperature 102 F, HR 140/min). Widened pulse pressure seems to be mostly due to increased arterial tone in the presence of overall decreased SVR, which is classic of hyperthyroidism in general.

    Not a slam dunk by any means (as Lauren mentioned), but it’s something to think about in your sick patients that aren’t responding as well as you’d expect to your resuscitation. If you pick up on these vital sign abnormalities in your patient with altered mental status who looks sick as snot, you might be able to make this diagnosis.

    Thanks for all your work!

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