Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Specious Ideas: Trending Troponins and Chasing Lactates

I want to use this post to discuss an article in this week's JAMA called Lactate in Sepsis, which I think is fatally flawed and misleading.  But first...

Several years ago on the Medical Evidence Blog I talked about cardiac troponins and how their use is often misguided.  Not long after this post a young woman e-mailed me to describe a diagnostic and therapeutic misadventure that ensued after an abnormal troponin was "discovered" during work-up for a urological problem.  This led to transfer to another facility via ambulance for a cardiac catheterization with multiple complications including stroke.  It was a sad and unfortunate tale, but I fear it is not too uncommon.

Troponin, like all tests, needs to be ordered on the basis of a clinical suspicion (prior probability) that, when combined with the likelihood ratio of the test using Bayes Theorem (see calculator on the right of the blog), results in a posterior probability of disease that crosses a decision threshold.  (Because of the woeful inadequacy of medical education in regards to basic decision theory, I would not be surprised if the majority of physicians cannot correctly describe priors, Bayes, posteriors, or decision thresholds.  But this is old news, and beyond the scope of this post.)  The low prior probability of acute coronary syndromes in critically ill patients with non-cardiac primary diagnoses (PE, AECOPD, sepsis, etc.) leads me to list "non-specific troponin increase in the setting of critical illness" as a problem (an artificially begotten one) in my assessments after colleagues regretfully order tests that should never have been ordered.  And I will defer discussion of all those d-dimers and the needless CT angiograms they engender, lest I descend into unmitigated belligerence.