Friday Board Review

Board Review by Dr. Edward Guo (Edited by Dr. Parikh)

A 65 year old male with a past medical history of type 2 diabetes and hyperlipidemia presents via EMS as a stroke alert. Patient developed confused speech and right upper extremity weakness 1 hour ago. Vital signs and point of care glucose are within normal limits. CT head and CTA head and neck demonstrate no acute intracranial abnormalities, and thrombolytics are administered. Ten minutes later, the patient develops rapidly progressive tongue and lip swelling. There is no response to intramuscular epinephrine. What is the likely etiology of the patient’s change in condition?

A: Hemorrhagic transformation

B: IgE-mediated hypersensitivity to thrombolytics

C: Mast cell activation from IV contrast

D: Thrombolytic side effect

Answer: D. Thrombolytic side effect

This patient is most likely experiencing orolingual angioedema, a known side effect of thrombolysis that is overall rare but in some reports has an incidence as high as 17%. It is caused by complement and kinin pathway activation by plasminogen. Patients who are already taking ACE inhibitors are at increased risk. Treatment involves discontinuing thrombolysis and managing similarly to other causes of angioedema. 

It is unlikely that intracranial hemorrhage would cause airway swelling. IgE-mediated hypersensitivity reactions require an initial sensitization exposure which makes this answer unlikely without prior administration of thrombolytics. Mast cell activation from IV contrast is possible but would likely have response to intramuscular epinephrine in addition to other physical exam findings such as urticaria or wheezing. 


Go S, Kornegay J. Stroke Syndromes. In: Tintinalli JE, Ma O, Yealy DM, Meckler GD, Stapczynski J, Cline DM, Thomas SH. eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 9e. McGraw-Hill Education; 2020.

Astin, Matt. “TPA-Associated Angioedema- Rebel EM- Emergency Medicine Blog.”REBEL EM- Emergency Medicine Blog, https://www., 3 Apr. 2014,

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