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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Clinicopathological Cases from the University of Maryland

54-year-old Woman with Chest Pain

Chest pain is a common presentation to the emergency department (ED) that can be caused by a multitude of etiologies. It can be challenging to differentiate life-threatening conditions from more benign causes. A 54-year-old woman presented to the ED complaining of chest pain with dyspnea in the setting of recent blunt trauma. This case offers a thorough yet practical approach to the diagnostic workup of chest pain with dyspnea in the ED setting. The surprising final diagnosis and case outcome are then revealed.

Case Series

Using Point-of-care Ultrasonography to Diagnose Traumatic Arthrotomy of the Knee: A Case Series

Introduction: Accurate diagnosis of traumatic arthrotomy of the knee (TAK) is critical for patients presenting to the emergency department (ED) to ensure timely treatment. Current diagnostic modalities including plain radiography, computed tomography (CT), and the saline load test (SLT) have advantages and disadvantages. Point-of-care-ultrasonography (POCUS) offers a possible timely, low-cost, and efficient alternative method of diagnosing TAK. In this case series we present three cases where POCUS was used to diagnose TAK in the ED.

Case Series: Three patients in their early 20s presented to the ED complaining of knee trauma with wounds in proximity to the joint. Mechanisms of injury included a gunshot wound in one case and blunt trauma (motor vehicle collision and bicycle crash) in two cases. In all three cases TAK was suggested on POCUS examinations by the presence of intra-articular hyperechoic foci consistent with air artifact. All three cases had TAK confirmed by orthopedic evaluation.

Discussion: Ultrasound may have utility in the evaluation of patients presenting with knee trauma where TAK is a concern. The SLT is generally considered the gold standard test for diagnosis of TAK, but it is invasive and has a wide range of diagnostic accuracy. Intra-articular air has been found to be a sensitive marker for TAK in CT studies. Thus, additional investigations into the diagnostic accuracy of POCUS for this finding should be undertaken.

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Case Reports

Defibrillator Lead Perforation Leading to Concerning Electrocardiogram Findings: Case Report

Introduction: Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) lead perforation through the myocardium may result in chest pain and electrocardiogram (ECG) changes concerning for ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction. The clinical context of the ECG aids in appropriate management.

Case Report: We report the case of a 71-year-old woman experiencing chest pain after an ICD placement two weeks earlier. On presentation, she exhibited ST-segment elevation on her ECG. Computed tomography confirmed ICD lead migration. The patient’s hemodynamics were normal, and she was discharged home after a five-day hospital stay following a lead revision.

Conclusion: Although rare, ICD lead perforation is a potential cause of chest pain and ischemic ECG changes. Emergency physicians should consider lead perforation as a potential differential diagnosis when evaluating chest pain in patients with ICDs, taking into account the potential complications of coronary angiography.

A Critical Combination of Esophageal Rupture and Upside-down Stomach: A Case Report

Introduction: Spontaneous esophageal rupture, or Boerhaave syndrome, and upside-down stomach are rare pathologies associated with grave sequelae. Boerhaave syndrome can have a mortality rate as high as 44%. Upside-down stomach accounts for less than 5% of hiatal hernias and can lead to incarceration and volvulus.

Case Report: An 80-year-old woman presented to the emergency department with sudden onset, severe epigastric pain. Physical examination revealed normal vital signs with mild epigastric tenderness. Imaging obtained revealed a large hiatal hernia and findings concerning for esophageal perforation. The patient was started on 3.375 grams of intravenous piperacillin/tazobactam, and transfer to a tertiary care facility was initiated. After transfer, esophagography confirmed a perforation near the gastroesophageal junction and findings consistent with an upside-down stomach. The patient underwent successful repair of the esophageal perforation and gastropexy followed by intensive care unit admission and ultimately discharge.

Conclusion: Boerhaave syndrome and upside-down stomach are two conditions with high associated morbidity and mortality requiring prompt intervention. Information obtained in the history and physical examination including acute onset of chest pain after vomiting, tachypnea, subcutaneous emphysema, and hypoxia can assist in the diagnosis of the described pathologies. These signs and symptoms can be subtle on examination but are important in raising clinical suspicion for an otherwise rare etiology for acute onset chest pain.

Permissive Hypotension in a Patient with Severe Hypernatremia: A Case Report

Introduction: Severe hypernatremia is a critical situation, and when coupled with intravascular depletion and hypotension can create a treatment dilemma.

Case Report: We present the case of a medically complex patient who had gradually worsening alteration of mental status and mean arterial pressures in the 50s on presentation to the emergency department.

Conclusion: Final diagnoses included severe hypernatremia and hypovolemic shock secondary to poor oral intake. We used judicious fluid repletion with gradual improvement in sodium levels and permissive hypotension to avoid rapid osmotic shifts. Balancing reperfusion and the risk for osmotic effects of aggressive fluid resuscitation can be a challenging situation for the multidisciplinary team.

Ruptured Ovarian Artery Aneurysm in a Postmenopausal Female: Case Report

Introduction: Ovarian artery aneurysm is a rare diagnosis, primarily associated with late pregnancy and the postpartum period. It can cause life-threatening hemorrhage when ruptured. Even more rare are ovarian artery aneurysms in postmenopausal women.

Case Report: We present a case of a postmenopausal female presenting to the emergency department with flank pain. Point-of-care ultrasound showed free fluid in the abdomen. She was diagnosed with an ovarian artery aneurysm on computed tomography angiography and treated successfully with embolization.

Conclusion: Ruptured ovarian artery aneurysm is an uncommon cause of intra-abdominal hemorrhage in women.

Acute Abdominal Pain and a Whirlpool Sign on Computerized Tomography: A Case Report

Introduction: Mesenteric volvulus is a rare cause of abdominal pain and bowel obstruction in elderly patients. When a mesenteric volvulus occurs in adult patients, the symptoms are often non-specific, which contributes to delays in diagnosis.

Case Report: We present a case of a 75-year-old female who presented with non-specific abdominal pain. The rare whirlpool sign on computed tomography identified a mesenteric volvulus as the cause of small bowel obstruction. She was taken to the operating room and, after successful resection of the small bowel, she recovered and ultimately was discharged home.

Conclusion: Early identification of a whirlpool sign and early surgical consultation are key to providing the best chance for salvage of ischemic small bowel due to mesenteric volvulus and to prevent a fatal outcome.

  • 1 supplemental video

Emergency Department Doppler Assessment of a Central Retinal Artery Occlusion: Case Report

Introduction: Vision loss is a symptom found frequently in patients presenting to the emergency department (ED). Central retinal artery occlusion (CRAO) is an uncommon yet time-sensitive and critical cause of painless vision loss in which delayed diagnosis can lead to significant morbidity. Emergency medicine literature documents the ability to diagnose a CRAO using ultrasound by identifying the hyperechoic thrombus coined the retrobulbar spot sign.

Case Report: We present the case of a patient presenting with painless monocular vision loss for which CRAO was diagnosed in the ED using point-of-care ultrasound enhanced by the utilization of serial Doppler examinations as well as calculation of the central retinal artery resistive index.

Conclusion: Despite the pre-existing literature on point-of-care ultrasound investigation of central retinal artery occlusion, there are no emergency medicine case reports describing serial examination of the central retinal artery by spectral Doppler or calculation of arterial resistive index to improve this evaluation and monitor progression of the pathology. [2024;7(5)1–5.]

Transcatheter Arterial Embolization for Atraumatic Splenic Rupture in TEE-negative Endocarditis: A Case Report

Introduction: Spontaneous splenic rupture is an extremely rare complication of infective endocarditis.

Case Report: We present a case of a 56-year-old immunocompetent female with porcine bioprosthetic mitral valve replacement, automated implanted cardioverter-defibrillator, and atrial fibrillation on apixaban who was found to have in-hospital atraumatic splenic rupture complicating infective endocarditis with Haemophilus parainfluenza. The rupture was treated successfully by endovascular embolization. Usual treatment with six weeks of antibiotics provided durable cure without further complication, and no surgical intervention was needed for either the valve or spleen.

Conclusion: Transcatheter arterial embolization should be considered early in atraumatic splenic rupture. Relevant abdominal and cerebral imaging should be considered in all cases of suspected or confirmed infective endocarditis where unexplained symptoms are present.

Peritonsillar Abscess and Post-aspiration Bleed Identified with Point-of-care Ultrasound Using Endocavitary Probe: A Case Report

Introduction: Peritonsillar abscesses form between the tonsillar capsule, the superior constrictor, and palatopharyngeus muscles. Physicians traditionally make this diagnosis clinically; however, ultrasound allows clinicians to further identify and differentiate between peritonsillitis, peritonsillar abscess, and phlegmon formation. By increasing both the sensitivity and specificity, ultrasound improves the diagnostic accuracy for patients with peritonsillar abscesses. This case demonstrates the utilization of ultrasound in peritonsillar abscesses and the application of point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) in identifying complications of procedures used for treatment in the emergency department (ED).

Case Report: A 19-year-old male presented to the ED with complaints of severe sore throat and fever for the prior five days. A POCUS using an endocavitary probe with sterile cover demonstrated hypoechoic debris with a “swirl sign.” Ultrasound was used to successfully guide needle aspiration by using in-plane needle guidance. The patient had significant bleeding after needle aspiration, and repeat POCUS clearly identified a new pocket of blood that had formed and was contained in the soft tissue. We monitored the size of the hematoma in real time with ultrasound to ensure the hematoma had no rapid expansion and was stable.

Conclusion: Among the differential diagnoses for sore throat, the diagnosis of peritonsillar abscess is particularly concerning as it is both common and generally requires swift intervention. Presentations can range from a mild infection to a life-threatening emergency with potential airway compromise. The two primary avenues for treatment include either needle aspiration or incision and drainage. Ultrasound can successfully identify the abscess and other landmarks for safe and successful drainage, as well as early identification of complications.

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Diabetic Ketoalkalosis: A Case Report

Introduction: Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a common diagnosis in the emergency department (ED). However, one must consider other causes for acid-base disturbances when the pattern is not consistent with typical presentation.

Case Report: A 52-year-old female with a history of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus type 2 presented to the ED with abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting for three days. Her diagnostic workup revealed diabetic ketoacidosis but with concurrent metabolic alkalosis. Standard treatment for DKA was initiated, and there was improvement of her mentation and resolution of metabolic derangements.

Conclusion: Overlooking a diagnosis of DKA because of alkalosis on venous blood gas testing could lead to inappropriate treatment and, therefore, increased risk of morbidity and mortality in the affected patient.

Inferior Pancreaticoduodenal Artery Pseudoaneurysm Causing Biliary Obstruction: A Case Report

Introduction: Visceral arterial aneurysms and pseudoaneurysms are rare but dangerous pathologies, with reported incidence of 0.01–0.2% of the worldwide population, as found on autopsy. Pancreaticoduodenal artery pathology accounts for approximately 2% of all visceral aneurysms; it is commonly caused by chronic inflammatory processes, such as pancreatitis or adjacent pseudocysts. Morbidity and mortality commonly result from rupture of the aneurysm itself, leading to life-threatening hemorrhage into the peritoneum or gastrointestinal tract.

Case Report: Here we present the case of a 64-year-old male patient with previous history of alcohol use disorder leading to chronic pancreatitis and prior embolization of an inferior pancreaticoduodenal pseudoaneurysm, who presented to the emergency department (ED) with abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, and was found to have a large recurrent inferior pancreaticoduodenal pseudoaneurysm with associated obstructive cholangitis and pancreatitis via contrast-enhanced computed tomography (CT) of the abdomen and pelvis. The patient was managed emergently by interventional radiology angiography with embolic coiling and percutaneous biliary catheter placement, and he subsequently underwent biliary duct stenting with gastroenterology. The patient was successfully discharged after a brief hospitalization after resolution of his pancreatitis and associated hyperbilirubinemia.

Conclusion: Pancreaticoduodenal artery aneurysms and pseudoaneurysms are rare and dangerous visceral pathologies. Patients can be diagnosed rapidly in the ED with CT imaging and need

urgent endovascular management to prevent morbidity and mortality.

Severely Painful and Pruritic Forearm Rash: A Case of Caterpillar Envenomation in South Florida

Introduction: The asp caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis) is endemic to the southeastern United States, with most sightings in Florida, Texas, and Louisiana. A few hundred caterpillar envenomations are reported annually with most cases occurring in July–November. Asp caterpillars have hollow spines along their backs that contain venom. Contact with these spines is what produces the characteristic “sting” resulting in contact dermatitis and a localized hypersensitivity reaction collectively referred to as lepidopterism. Symptoms of lepidopterism may include severe burning pain, pruritis, edema, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and headache. Symptoms are often self limited, and treatment should focus on expedited removal of implanted spines and aggressive symptom management.

Case Report: We present the case of a patient presenting to the emergency department (ED) with acute-onset severe left forearm pain with associated pruritic rash incurred while working in a retail store. Initial therapeutic management included administration of analgesics, antihistamines, and steroids. After obtaining a comprehensive history and consulting with the Poison Control Center, we suspected an asp caterpillar envenomation. Following extraction of the caterpillar spines with silk tape, the patient’s symptoms improved. After a period of observation in the ED, the patient was discharged home without any known sequelae.

Conclusion: Although asp caterpillars typically inhabit trees and foliage, human exposure to the caterpillar may occur in developed environments. Effective history-taking, prompt communication with toxicologic experts, and complete removal of intact spines are essential for early identification and effective clinical management of asp caterpillar envenomation.

Use of Point-of-care Ultrasound to Diagnose Rectus Abdominis Strain in the Acute Setting: A Case Report

Introduction: Rectus abdominis muscle strains are common and can be debilitating in both professional and amateur athletes who engage in strenuous activity.

Case Report: We report a rare case of rectus abdominis muscle tear in an amateur bodybuilder diagnosed by point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) in the emergency department (ED). The patient had presented to the ED three separate times after strenuous exercise, received costly diagnostic workups, and ultimately was diagnosed on the third visit with grade 2 bilateral rectus abdominis tear. The patient was given appropriate education and sports medicine follow-up. He underwent rehabilitation focused on trunk and core stability. At eight-week follow-up, the patient had made a full recovery.

Conclusion: To our knowledge, a case of bilateral rectus abdominis tear diagnosed by ultrasound in the emergency setting has not been previously published. Our case report highlights the utility of POCUS in diagnosing musculoskeletal pathology and preventing costly bounce-back visits.

Silicone Embolism Syndrome Causing Altered Mental Status and Respiratory Failure After an Unlicensed Gluteal Silicone Injection: A Case Report

Introduction: Unlicensed cosmetic procedures, which come at increased risk of infection and potential surgical complications, have introduced new challenges in healthcare. Physicians should be aware of presentations that may arise secondary to these procedures.

Case Report: We describe a case in which a previously healthy, 28-year-old female presented with new-onset seizures and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in the setting of a recent cosmetic procedure with silicone injections to the gluteal region. The patient’s hospital course was complicated by altered mental status, respiratory failure, rapid hemodynamic compromise, and eventual death.

Conclusion: In rare cases, one possible complication of cosmetic procedures is silicone embolism syndrome, which is characterized by pneumonitis, alveolar hemorrhage, and ARDS. The patient described in this report also experienced neurologic symptoms including seizure and altered mental status. This is a clinical diagnosis that relies upon thorough history-taking and detailed physical exam. Documentation on this phenomenon is limited, and medical management has not yet been standardized for this condition. Morbidity and mortality remain high.

Cardiac Arrest During a Ferric Derisomaltose Infusion Followed by Complete Heart Block: A Case Report

Introduction: Ferric derisomaltose is the newest available parenteral iron formulation. Studies have demonstrated a good safety profile with improved tolerability compared to alternative parenteral iron formulations. To date there have been no reported acute, life-threatening cardiac events associated with ferric derisomaltose.

Case Report: An 86-year-old male who had previously tolerated routine iron infusions received a first dose of ferric derisomaltose at an outpatient infusion clinic. Six minutes into the infusion the patient became unresponsive with no palpable pulse. Return of spontaneous circulation was achieved after two minutes of chest compressions. Electrocardiogram showed complete heart block requiring transcutaneous pacing and vasopressor administration. The patient was transferred to the emergency department for stabilization and then admitted to the cardiac intensive care unit. During admission, the patient received a dual-chamber, permanent pacemaker without complication and was ultimately discharged.

Conclusion: It may be reasonable to consider parenteral iron as a toxicological etiology for patients presenting with complete heart block temporally associated with parenteral iron administration, particularly in patients with underlying conduction abnormalities.


When Educational Images Don’t Reflect the Population: Phlegmasia Cerulea Dolens, a Case Report

Introduction: Phlegmasia cerulea dolens (PCD) is an uncommon, potentially life-threatening complication of acute deep venous thromboses that requires a timely diagnosis. The name of the condition, the visual diagnostic criteria, and the preponderance of cases in the literature referencing findings exclusively in patients with lighter skin complexions means that PCD may not be on the differential diagnosis for the patient with more melanated skin who is experiencing this time-sensitive vascular emergency.

Case Report: We describe one case of PCD in a patient with darker skin complexion and the importance of identifying clinical findings, regardless of skin color, given the paucity of reference images for PCD in darker complected patients. Our literature review yielded 60 case reports for PCD. Only two papers included images referencing patients of color.

Conclusion: Accurate diagnosis requires recognition of diagnostic findings, which may vary significantly between phenotypically distinct populations. Many pathognomonic physical exam findings rely on descriptors based on presentation in phenotypically white patients.

Profound Alkalosis and Prolonged QT Interval Due to Inappropriate Gastrostomy Tube Loss: A Case Report

Introduction: Severe metabolic alkaloses are relatively rare but can carry a high mortality rate. Treatment involves supportive care and treatment of underlying causes.

Case Report: A 55-year-old male dependent on a gastrojejunostomy tube presented to the emergency department for altered mental status. The patient had metabolic alkalosis, electrolyte abnormalities, and prolonged QT interval on electrocardiogram. Examination and history revealed that chronic drainage of gastric fluid via malfunctioning a gastrojejunostomy tube resulted in profound alkalosis. The patient recovered with supportive care, electrolyte repletion, and gastrojejunostomy tube replacement.

Conclusion: This case highlights the importance of gastrointestinal acid-base pathophysiology.

Face-off Droop: A Case Report of Pediatric Stroke

Introduction: Cerebrovascular accidents rarely occur in children; the incidence of ischemic stroke in patients <16 years of age is between 0.6–7.9/100,000. However, they are the fourth most common cause of acute neurological deficits in the pediatric population, and possible cases should be evaluated with a high index of suspicion to ensure timely intervention.

Case Report: We describe a previously healthy 17-year-old male who presented to the pediatric emergency department with a left facial droop and hemiparesis consistent with a stroke. The patient’s age and lack of comorbidities made this an extremely uncommon presentation. Our patient’s neurologic symptoms were believed to have been caused by a recent traumatic clavicular injury sustained two weeks prior, which subsequently led to vascular insult.

Conclusion: Cerebrovascular accidents are an important cause of morbidity and mortality in pediatric patients. Cerebrovascular accidents in children are most often secondary to congenital causes; however, care should be taken to assess for acquired causes, such as trauma to major blood vessels. While rarely implicated in traumatic injuries, arterial structures posterior to the medial clavicle can result in severe complications.

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Images in Emergency Medicine

Clinical Images in Emergency Medicine: Cushing’s Disease

Case Presentation: A 22-year-old female presented to the emergency department with a two-month history of worsening fatigue, unintentional weight gain, and progressive facial swelling. Physical examination findings included hirsutism, moon facies, and abdominal striae. Subsequent brain magnetic resonance imaging revealed the presence of a 2.4-centimeter pituitary macroadenoma, confirming the diagnosis of Cushing’s disease. The patient was then admitted for neurosurgical tumor resection.

Discussion: Cushing’s disease is exceedingly rare and often presents with symptoms resembling more prevalent disorders, contributing to delays in diagnosis. Therefore, maintaining a high index of suspicion for this disease is crucial for emergency physicians.

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Rash and Fever in a Returned Traveler

Case Presentation: A 21-year-old, otherwise healthy female presented to the emergency department with fever among other nonspecific symptoms after recently returning from Ghana. On physical exam, she had a characteristic upper extremity rash, and a tourniquet test revealed numerous petechiae. The diagnosis of dengue was suspected and subsequently confirmed.

Discussion: Dengue is one of many viral illnesses that should be considered in returning travelers presenting with fever and other nonspecific symptoms. Emergency physicians must keep a broad differential when evaluating fever in returned travelers and prioritize history and physical exam findings to help narrow the diagnosis and provide appropriate management and supportive care while awaiting further confirmatory testing.

Atraumatic Orbital Emphysema in a Young Woman

Case Presentation: We describe the presentation, evaluation, and management of a young female patient presenting to the emergency department with atraumatic orbital emphysema, a rare condition. This patient was diagnosed using point-of-care ultrasound and computed tomography and was managed expectantly.

Discussion: Atraumatic orbital emphysema is a rare clinical condition more common in early middle-aged female patients with certain historical features such as chronic sinusitis, facial surgery or trauma, tobacco smoking, or current upper respiratory symptoms. While most cases will resolve spontaneously, rarely this condition can lead to vision-threatening orbital compartment syndrome, requiring lateral canthotomy or needle decompression.

One in a Million: A Woman Presenting with Unilateral Painful Ophthalmoplegia

Case Presentation: A 52-year-old female presented to the emergency department with four days of right periorbital pain, ipsilateral temporal headache, diplopia, and photophobia. Physical examination of the right eye revealed painful ophthalmoplegia, cranial nerves III and VI paresis, increased intraocular pressure, and mild proptosis. Magnetic resonance venogram and magnetic resonance imaging orbits with contrast demonstrated an abnormal signal surrounding the right cavernous sinus/petrous apex. Tolosa-Hunt syndrome (THS) was diagnosed. Per neurology recommendations, the patient was placed on a steroid regimen over the course of three weeks. She was discharged on hospital day nine following resolution of symptoms. She had no recurrence of symptoms or residual deficits noted at her two-week follow-up appointment.

Discussion: With an estimated annual incidence of one case per million, THS is a sinister etiology of unilateral headache, painful ophthalmoplegia, and oculomotor palsy. Tolosa-Hunt syndrome is caused by granulomatous inflammation in the cavernous sinus and is highly responsive to corticosteroids. Magnetic resonance imaging studies of the cavernous sinus and orbital apex are highly sensitive for THS and characteristically show enlargement and focal-enhancing masses within the affected cavernous sinus.

Child with Closed Head Injury and Persistent Vomiting

Case Presentation: We present the case of a six-year-old child with autism who presented with persistent vomiting in the setting of a closed head injury (CHI). Computed tomography of the head was normal, but due to persistent vomiting a radiograph of the abdomen was done, which showed multiple, rare-earth magnets in the abdomen. There was no history of witnessed ingestion. These magnets had caused enteroenteric fistula formation leading to persistent vomiting.

Discussion: In the setting of CHI, vomiting can be a sign of concussion or intracranial hemorrhage. In cases of CHI where intracranial pathology is ruled out and vomiting still persists, it is important to explore intra-abdominal causes of vomiting, especially in developmentally challenged children as they have higher incidence of unwitnessed foreign body ingestions.