Clinical Review

Amniotic fluid embolism: Management using a checklist

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Anticipate hemorrhage

Be prepared for uterine atony, coagulopathy, and catastrophic hemorrhage. Initiate IV oxytocin prophylaxis as soon as the infant is delivered. Have a low threshold for giving other uterotonic agents such as methylergonovine, carboprost, or misoprostol. If hemorrhage or DIC occurs, give tranexamic acid. Have the anesthesiologist or trauma team (if available) insert an intraosseous line for fluid resuscitation if peripheral IV access is inadequate.

Massive transfusion is often needed to treat DIC, which occurs in most AFE cases. Anticipate—do not wait—for DIC to occur. We propose activating your hospital’s massive transfusion protocol (MTP) as soon as you diagnose AFE so that blood products will be available as soon as possible. A typical MTP provides several units of red blood cells, a pheresis pack of platelets, and fresh/frozen plasma (FFP). If clinically indicated, administer cryoprecipitate instead of FFP to minimize volume overload, which may occur with FFP.

CASE Part 2: MTP initiated to treat DIC

The MTP is initiated. Laboratory results immediately pre-transfusion include hemoglobin 11.3 g/dL, platelet count 46,000 per mm3, fibrinogen 87 mg/dL, and an elevated prothrombin time international normalized ratio.

Expect heart failure

The initial hemodynamic picture in AFE is right heart failure, which should optimally be managed by a specialist from anesthesiology, cardiology, or critical care as soon as they are available. An emergency department physician may manage the hemodynamics until a specialist arrives. Avoidance of fluid overload is one important principle. If fluid challenges are needed for hypovolemic shock, boluses should be restricted to 500 mL rather than the traditional 1000 mL.

Pharmacologic treatment may include vasopressors, inotropic agents, and pulmonary vasodilators. Example medications and dosages recommended by SMFM are summarized in the checklist (FIGURE).5

After the initial phase of recovery, the hemodynamic picture often changes from right heart failure to left heart failure. Management of left heart failure is not covered in the SMFM checklist because, by the time it appears, the patient will usually be in the intensive care unit, managed by the critical care team. Management of left heart failure generally includes diuresis as needed for cardiogenic pulmonary edema, optimization of cardiac preload, and inotropic agents or vasopressors if needed to maintain cardiac output or perfusion pressure.4

Debrief, learning opportunities

Complex emergencies such as AFE are rarely handled 100% perfectly, even those with a good outcome, so they present opportunities for team learning and improvement. The team should conduct a 10- to 15-minute debrief soon after the patient is stabilized. Make an explicit statement that the main goal of the debrief is to gather suggestions as to how systems and processes could be improved for next time, not to find fault or lay blame on individuals. Encourage all personnel involved in the initial management to attend and discuss what went well and what did not. Another goal is to provide support for individuals who may feel traumatized by the dramatic, frightening events surrounding an AFE and by the poor patient outcome or guarded prognosis that frequently follows. Another goal is to discuss the plan for providing support and disclosure to the patient and family.

The vast majority of AFE cases meet criteria to be designated as “sentinel events,” because of patient transfer to the intensive care unit, multi-unit blood transfusion, other severe maternal morbidities, or maternal death. Therefore, most AFE cases will trigger a root cause analysis (RCA) or other formal sentinel event analysis conducted by the hospital’s Safety or Quality Department. As with the immediate post-event debrief, the first goal of the RCA is to identify systems issues that may have resulted in suboptimal care and that can be modified to improve future care. Specific issues regarding the checklist should also be addressed:

  • Was the checklist used?
  • Was the checklist available?
  • Are there items on the checklist that need to be modified, added, or deleted?

The RCA concludes with the development of a performance improvement plan.

Ultimately, we encourage all AFE cases be reported to the registry maintained by the Amniotic Fluid Embolism Foundation at, regardless of whether the outcome was favorable for the mother and newborn. The registry includes over 130 AFE cases since 2013 from around the world. Researchers periodically report on the registry findings.10 If providers report cases with both good and bad outcomes, the registry may provide future insights regarding which adjunctive or empiric treatments may or may not be promising.

Continue to: Empiric treatments...

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