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Point of Care Ultrasound (POCUS) improves diagnostic accuracy and affect patient management in patients undergoing cardiac  arrest. Resuscitation guidelines from the American Heart Association, the American Society of Echocardiography and the American College of Emergency Physicians as well as the European Resuscitation Council advocate POCUS use in cardiac arrest. The current recommendations is to use cardiac ultrasound if it can be performed without it interfering with standard advanced cardiovascular life support protocols. It use is as an additional diagnostic tool to identify potentially reversible causes. 

POCUS is only recommended in PEA and asystolic rhythms and should not delay lifesaving treatment of ventricular arrhythmias. POCUS can 1. Identify organized cardiac contractility and help differentiate pulseless electrical activity (PEA) from pseudo-PEA; 2. It can also determine a cardiac cause of the arrest; 3. Guide lifesaving procedures at bedside. True PEA is defined as the clinical absence of ventricular contraction despite the presence of electrical activity, whereas pseudo-PEA is defined as the presence of ventricular contractility visualized on cardiac ultrasound in a patient without palpable pulses.

Multiple protocols have been designed with the intent of integrating POCUS into advanced cardiac life support (ACLS safely). However there is no single best approach is widely accepted as best practice. What is clear though is that time is of the essence in arrest cases and a clinician should avoid exceeding the 10 second pauses between chest compressions.

Regarding the use of POCUS to make prognostic implications. Operationally the idea is to either continue with resuscitation efforts with in patients with the possibility of survival or termination in futile cases. Based on a recent systemic review of POCUS during resuscitation of adults with a non-traumatic cardiac arrest, the evidence for it use to make prognostic implications is very low. POCUS should not be used for prognostication purposes. In short, it is acceptable to continue resuscitation efforts that end up proving futile than to erroneously terminate resuscitation in a patient who would have otherwise survived.

Hs and Ts

The reversible cause of cardiac arrest are recognized into the Mnemonic of Hs and Ts and for review here they are:



Hydrogen ion (acidosis)






Of the above conditions, we will be looking at those that can be seen on FoCUS and are highlighted in blue.


Clinical diagnosis of the following conditions are common in the perioperative period and have a temporal relation to an intervention and include: Anaphylaxis, Local Anesthetic Systemic Toxicity, Anesthetic Overdose, Auto-PEEP or Malignant hyperthermia. 

No standardized protocol exists on the use of POCUS in cardiac arrest. However there are steps that we need to take in order to improve patient safety and optimize medical decision making and include the following:

  • POCUS should only be used during rhythm check and should not interfere with CPR efforts

  • Prepare the curvilinear or the phased array probe so that image acquisition lasts 10 seconds. Clips usually record 3 seconds of your scan. 

  • Appoint a 'Time Keeper' so that POCUS lasts less than 10 seconds.

  • On pulse check ONLY acquire. Interpret images when chest compressions have resumed.

  • During the time of chest compressions, the sonographer can look at extra cardiac images such as Lung/Abdomen/ Vascular.

  • The sonographer should communicate results. 

PEA vs Pseudo PEA

POCUS can assist in determining between these two possibilities in patients with suspected PEA on cardiac arrest.  An estimated 80% of in-hospital cardiac arrests consist of non-shockable rhythms. The role of FoCUS here is to confirm rhythm classification. A true PEA is one in which electrical activity is not coupled with mechanical motion of the heart by either a palpable pulse or detectable contractility on ultrasound .


Pseudo PEA is mechanical contraction seen on POCUS that can include any of the following:


        1. Ventricular Fibrillation with wide complex QRS seen on EKG and fast rhythmic heart movement in which case an unsynchronized shock is warranted

        2. Supraventricular Tachycardia with narrow complex QRS coupled with fast rhythmic heart movement and  in which a synchronized shock is warranted.

Pseudo PEA

On the following clips we see PEA vs Pseudo PEA


VT/VF/SVT depending on EKG

VT/VF/SVT depending on EKG

Hs : Hypoxemia

At this point in the ACLS algorithm you have addressed hypoxemia and have secured the patient's airway or are in the process of doing so. Severe hypoxemia leads to bradycardia and ultimately to PEA. FoCUS can help us determine if the cause of the arrest is associated with hypoxemia. Both cardiogenic and non cardiogenic pulmonary edema will present with diffuse B lines. Consolidations and atelectasis with or without large pleural effusions can also be seen on ultrasound. Gastric ultrasound can also assist you in determining if there was a significant risk for aspiration, specially if gastric contents were seen in the airway on intubation.


Lung POCUS can assist you in determining the cause of the hypoxemia as seen below.



Pulmonary Edema

Pleural Effusion

For a more detailed exam click

Gastric POCUS can assist you in determining if there was an increased aspiration risk specially if food contents were seen on intubation.


Grade 2 Antrum with clear contents

Full stomach

Full stomach

For a more detailed exam click

Hs : Hypovolemia

Signs of hypovolemia include a small ventricular chamber size and a collapsed inferior vena cava. You may not see a collapsed ventricles. Should hypovolemia be on the differential the interrogation should proceed with the focused assessment with sonography for trauma to identify free fluid or other acute pathology that may necessitate thoracotomy or laparotomy.