Acute care Medical guidelines

WHO and mhGAP

Today we have made sure that you should be able to access the full WHO website via the phones. There are many excellent resources here. If you have had any difficulty accessing the links I’ve flagged on the website previously, I hope this will now be resolved. There should also be a new link on your phones which takes you to the mhGAP intervention guide. This is produced by the WHO and is a very helpful guide on mental health, neurological and substance abuse disorders, for health care workers in non-specialist settings. I think this may prove very useful; you can click through the flow charts to use it as a decision making tool when assessing patients. Let me know what you think!

Acute care General questions Medical guidelines

Virtual Doctors Forum: Hypertensive Crises

Information based on BMJ Best Practice Guidance:


Hypertensive Urgency: blood pressure ≥ 180/110 mmHg without acute target-organ damage.

Hypertensive Emergency: severely elevated blood pressure (BP) associated with new or progressive target organ dysfunction.

Although the absolute value of the BP is not as important as the presence of end-organ damage, the systolic BP is usually >180 mmHg and/or the diastolic BP is >120 mmHg.

Q: Why is this a medical emergency?

A: Can lead to irreversible end organ damage

Image from


There are many possible causes of hypertensive emergency.

One very common cause is essential hypertension that is either undiagnosed or inadequately treated.

Another common cause of hypertensive emergency is secondary and resistant hypertension:

  • Renal: most common caused by underlying chronic disease, renal artery stenosis, acute glomerulonephritis, collagen vascular diseases, kidney transplantation.
  • Neurological: head trauma, spinal cord injury, autonomic dysfunction
  • Respiratory: obstructive sleep apnoea
  • Vasculitis
  • Endocrine: multiple causes- but rare and small print! These are also difficult to diagnose without extensive tests and investigations.
  • Pregnancy: pre-eclampsia, HELLP syndrome, and eclampsia are important causes of hypertensive emergency in women. THIS IS OFTEN TREATED DIFFERENTLY
  • Lifestyle factors:
    • excessive dietary salt intake,
    • obesity
    • alcohol consumption
    • smoking
    • drug use



  • Blurry vision
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Change in mental status
  • Dysphagia (swallowing difficulty)
  • Numbness
  • Paraesthesia
  • Weakness


  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Orthopnoea (breathlessness when lying down)
  • Palpitations
  • Peripheral oedema


  • Decreased urine output


An appropriately sized cuff should be used for BP readings:

  1. The cuff bladder should encircle at least 80% of the upper arm and the cuff length should be greater than two-thirds the distance between the shoulder and elbow.
  • The arm should be supported at heart level during recordings.
  • Using too large a cuff could result in an underestimation of BP; too small a cuff could lead to overestimation.
  • BP readings should be taken from both arms and readings repeated after 5 minutes to confirm.

If there is a more than 20 mmHg pressure difference between arms, aortic dissection should be considered. This requires urgent transfer to a specialist hospital.

A fundoscopic examination should be performed, looking for the presence of papilloedema retinal haemorrhages, retinal exudates, or engorged retinal veins.

Fundoscopy: Papilloedema
Fundoscopy: Hypertensive Changes

A bedside neurologic exam is also required and should include:

  • testing of cognition
  • examination of the cranial nerves
  • checking gross motor strength and sensation
  • checking the patient’s gait

It is important to listen to the heart sounds to check for any new murmurs or additional sounds. It is also useful to check for artery bruits and whether there is any peripheral oedema present.


Depending on clinic facilities, it may not be possible to perform any diagnostic tests, however it is useful to check the following as a minimum if you are able to:

  • FBC- to check for any abnormalities
  • U&E- may show renal impairment
  • Urinalysis- may show blood/protein which can signify end organ kidney damage
  • ECG- may show ischaemia or left ventricular strain pattern


Overall the most important thing is to check for evidence of end organ damage as this is what distinguishes hypertensive urgency from hypertensive emergency.


This is according to the British National Formulary and the hyperlinks should link through to the correct doses for each medication.

Hypertensive Urgency (HU):

  • Use of sublingual nifedipine is not recommended.

A systematic review was carried out in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in 2018, which concluded that he optimal choice of antihypertensive agent remains unclear.

The full article can be accessed here:!po=0.909091

Hypertensive Emergency (HE):

In UK guidelines, oral therapies are generally discouraged as first-line treatment options.

Intravenous treatment options include sodium nitroprusside [unlicensed], nicardipine hydrochloridelabetalol hydrochlorideglyceryl trinitratephentolamine mesilatehydralazine hydrochloride, or esmolol hydrochloride.

The precise choice of drug depends on the past medical history and clinical status of the patient.

It is important to control the patient’s BP, however bringing it down too quickly can also cause renal, cerebral, or coronary ischaemia and should therefore be avoided.

If you do not have access to IV medication, using an oral anti-hypertensive, as per HU guidelines, is likely to do less harm than leaving a patient untreated with grossly abnormal physiology and an increased risk of irreversible end organ damage.

If you are in doubt about how best to manage a case, don’t forget you can contact us at the Virtual Doctors for patient specific advice and guidance.

Medical guidelines

Keloid scars

Over the past month or so, I’ve had several cases asking about diagnosis or treatment of keloid scars, so here’s a quick guide….

Keloid Scars

Medical guidelines

Burns assessment

Jas, our new burns specialist helpfully put the following together to help us all assess burns properly.


Click to read.


Medical guidelines

Pelvic inflammatory guidelines

I am sure you will have local guidelines but these are the UK ones, with good information on other diagnoses to consider


pid-guidelines-2017-for-consultation click to view

Medical guidelines

Eczema attachments

Eczema finger tip units


As discussed in the eczema podcast.


Charts/tables/references Medical guidelines Medical tips

Atrial fibrillation extras

As discussed in the podcast, here is the stroke risk calculator and an ECG example

CHADS2 Scoring Scheme

Condition Points
C Congestive heart failure 1
H Hypertension 1
A Age > 75 years 1
D Diabetes Mellitus 1
S2 Prior Strokeor TIA 2

Annual Stroke Risk with Respect to CHADS 2 Score (1)

CHADS2 Score Stroke Risk % 95% confidence interval
0 1.9 1.2-3.0
1 2.8 2.0-3.8
2 4.0 3.1-5.1
3 5.9 4.6-7.3
4 8.5 6.3-11.1
5 12.5 8.2-17.5
6 18.2 10.5-27.4

AF rapid ventricular response


Medical guidelines

Contraception guidelines

Guidance on contraception changes frequently, and I find the attached UKMEC guidelines really helpful to assess the risk of each contraceptive.

My take home messages are

  1. start contraception as soon as possible to prevent pregnancies. Please don’t wait until the patient’s next menstruation (which was previous advice). None of the hormonal contraceptives will adversely affect a pregnancy but delaying starting contraception places a woman at risk of an unwanted pregnancy.
  2. any type of migraine is now a potential contraindication to COCP. Previously only migraine with aura was felt to be high risk.UKMEC
Medical guidelines Medical tips


epidiymo orchitis pathway

Hi all,

I’ve noticed a few cases of this on the VDrs system so thought I would put up these guidelines (click the underlined words for the pathway to appear) to help you treat any cases you see.



Medical guidelines

Asthma attacks

I’ve noted a few cases of acute asthma on the VDr system and thought this guideline may be helpful. I realise you may not have the ability to monitor oxygen saturations or even peak flows, but assessing the patient especially their general state, plus respiratory rate and pulse can give a lot of vital information.
Ventolin is best given through a spacer. These can be made by cutting a hole in a coke (or other plastic) bottle and getting patient to breath normally through one end with the inhaler inserted into the hole. I can post a photo if that doesn’t make sense (let me know). Oral salbutamol isn’t any good during an attack.

asthma guidelines