Jun 7, 2019

Interviewer: Three things that kill young, healthy people. That's coming up next on The Scope.

Announcer: This is "From the Front Lines" with emergency room physician, Dr. Troy Madsen on The Scope.

Interviewer: Today we're going to talk about from his perspective in the ER, three things that can kill young healthy people. Because generally young healthy people aren't prone necessarily to dying, but there's some kind of usual suspects that you see come up time and time again. So let's start with number one. What is that?

Dr. Madsen: So number one, the one thing I see that it's just devastating to see this, but this kills young healthy people is a pulmonary embolism. This is a blood clot in the lungs. Some people are prone to these because they may have a genetic disorder that makes their blood more likely to clot. But what will happen with the clot, it often forms in the legs, somewhere else in the body, breaks through, goes to the lung. And if it's large enough, can just cause just a massive collapse of your cardiovascular system where your heart is just not squeezing the blood out like it should, and that can kill people. It's a devastating thing. We do see it occasionally, and these are very often people who are otherwise healthy.

Interviewer: Now we're talking 30, 40 otherwise athletic. A lot of times it can affect them.

Dr. Madsen: Exactly. For a lot of these people, it's their first time in the ER. They may not even see a doctor. They may have zero health conditions, no meds and this can happen out of the blue.

Interviewer: Are there any warning signs for a pulmonary embolism that they could have been aware of that might have prevented it?

Dr. Madsen: So sometimes these people may have had a small pulmonary embolism before the big one hit, and they may have had some chest pain, shortness of breath. Classically the chest pain is worse when you take a deep breath. A lot of times they describe that they just can't do their usual activities. They feel shorter breath while they're trying to walk upstairs or run or things they would typically do. These are all things to watch for and try and get some medical attention if you're having these symptoms.

Interviewer: And not be confused for maybe some other things like maybe thinking you've got asthma all of a sudden.

Dr. Madsen: Exactly. You know, usually people who have asthma have probably had asthma before. It would be unusual for that just to come on out of the blue. So if you have new chest pain, new shortness of breath, especially if that pain is worse if you take a deep breath, if you're passing out, if your heart is going really fast, all reasons to get checked out.

Interviewer: All right, go to the ER for that.

Dr. Madsen: I would go to the ER absolutely.

Interviewer: Three things that kill young healthy people. What's number two?

Dr. Madsen: So number two is an aneurysm in the brain or what we call a subarachnoid hemorrhage. This is when an aneurysm bursts. There's bleeding in the brain. This is a devastating thing, and I can think of cases I've seen of people who have come in, young, otherwise healthy people and classically they describe a severe sudden onset headache. They describe it as a thunderclap headache. It just comes on like that sound of thunder. Just out of the blue, out of nowhere, severe sudden onset, maximal intensity, very quickly and they have bleeding in their brain and that bleeding can expand very rapidly.

Interviewer: Is that caused by trauma or something like that? Or does it just come on you even if you're just sitting and not doing anything?

Dr. Madsen: So trauma can absolutely cause this sort of thing. We definitely see lots of cases of trauma, but the cases I'm thinking of are people who have not had any trauma and who just say, "Wow, I got a headache out of the blue. I don't normally get headaches. This is a 10 out of 10 headache. This hurts like crazy. My head just feels awful." Maybe they're confused. Maybe they're having nausea and vomiting. This can be a very devastating thing and, like I said, can go south very quickly if this bleeding expands.

Interviewer: So if you're a young, healthy person and you're having those symptoms, again, go to the ER immediately.

Dr. Madsen: Absolutely. I mean anyone of any age. But this is one of these things in young, healthy people that is just, again, people who may have no other medical issues, no indication of anything wrong get a sudden severe headache, get medical attention, get checked out.

Interviewer: All right. Three things that kill young healthy people from an ER doc's perspective, number three.

Dr. Madsen: So number three is trauma. And this is often one of the most devastating things we see. You know, young, healthy people sometimes are more likely to take risk, whether it be on, you know, motor vehicles, motorcycles, outdoor activities, that kind of thing. You hate to see people who are severely injured by trauma, but it's a devastating thing to see. We see lots of trauma, and a lot of those traumas are again in people who are young, healthy, otherwise have never had issues, never been to a doctor, and suffer severe trauma. Sometimes no fault of their own or sometimes maybe because they are taking some risk.

Interviewer: So I think the takeaway for me anyway, and you can help verify this, it sounds like if you're having any sort of symptoms of a pulmonary embolism or a brain aneurism, that either shortness of breath that we talked about where normally you wouldn't have that or that thunderclap headache, you should immediately go to the ER even if you're healthy because these are some pretty serious signs, and as far as trauma's concerned, just be aware that that's a danger for us young, healthy people.

Dr. Madsen: That's exactly right, yes. Pulmonary embolism, subarachnoid hemorrhage, like you said, watch out for chest pain, shortness of breath, sudden severe headaches, trauma.

Interviewer: Take it seriously.

Dr. Madsen: Take it seriously. Take the necessary precautions. Stuff's always going to happen. There's always risk in any activity, but take the necessary precautions. Wear a helmet, wear your seat belt, make sure you're safe in any kind of activity.

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