Clinical assessment of hemodynamically unstable patients

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Purpose of reviewClinical examination of hemodynamically unstable patients provides timely, low-risk, and potentially useful diagnostic and prognostic information. This review will examine the evidence behind the use of clinical examination findings to drive treatment decisions and predict outcomes in patients with hemodynamic instability. An additional goal of the review is to place the use of clinical examination in context of more invasive techniques to diagnose and treat hemodynamically unstable patients.Recent findingsThe development of novel diagnostic tests based on recently developed technology has focused attention on methods to determine when a test should enter routine clinical use. The widespread incorporation of pulmonary artery catheterization into clinical practice prior to formal evaluation of its ability to improve outcomes highlights the importance of properly evaluating diagnostic tests in critically ill patients. Formal evaluation of clinical examination as a diagnostic test will allow better understanding of its role in the hemodynamic evaluation of critically ill patients.SummaryClinical examination remains an important initial step in the diagnosis and risk stratification of patients. Despite limitations of current techniques, the availability, low risk, and ability to perform repetitive tests ensure that clinical examination of the hemodynamically unstable patient will continue to be a useful tool for the intensivist until more useful tests are validated in this patient population.

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