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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Clinicopathological Cases

Beware of the Zebra: Nine-year-old with Fever

An otherwise healthy nine-year-old female who spoke only French presented with abdominal pain, vomiting, intermittent fevers, fatigue, and headache. She then quickly became febrile and altered requiring intubation. When treating a healthy child, the physician may initially develop a differential that includes common illnesses. Yet, as emergency medicine providers, we must be thinking about the “zebras” in order to not miss potentially deadly, curable diseases.

Astonishing Cases and Images in Emergency Medicine

Your Automated Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator Is Not a Bulletproof Vest but It Might Save Your Life

A 43-year-old male was brought to the emergency department as the highest level trauma activation with complaints of chest and arm pain after sustaining gunshot wounds (GSW). Initial workup was notable for superficial GSWs to the left chest and upper extremity with direct impact to the patient’s automated implantable cardioverter defibrillator. The patient underwent replacement of the device without rewiring and was discharged home without complications.

Medical Legal Case Report

To tPA or Not to tPA: Two Medical-Legal Misadventures of Diagnosing a Cerebrovascular Accident as a Stroke Mimic

We present two recent successfully litigated malpractice cases in which patients with cerebrovascular accidents were misdiagnosed as stroke mimics. The first was diagnosed as a hemiplegic migraine, which occurs in only 0.01% of the population. The second was diagnosed as a conversion disorder, which ultimately has a neurologic etiology in 4% of cases. In both cases, issues of poor patient communication and poor documentation were paramount in the legal outcome. We discuss caveats of stroke mimics, tissue plasminogen activator administration liability, and pitfalls in patient and family interactions.

Case Report

Symptomatic Pericardial Cyst: An Atypical Case of Pleuritic Chest Pain

Pericardial cysts were first described in 1837 as diverticula extending from the pericardium. They are rare and frequently asymptomatic. Symptomatic presentations may be similar to more common causes of chest pain or dyspnea such as acute coronary syndrome or pulmonary embolism. Emergency physicians should consider mediastinal mass, and in this case pericardial cyst, in the differential diagnosis of chest pain because of the risk for tamponade, sudden cardiac death, or other life-threatening complications. Here, we describe a novel presentation of a pericardial cyst presenting as atypical chest pain.

Detection of Type B Aortic Dissection in the Emergency Department with Point-of-Care Ultrasound

Aortic dissection (AD) is a rare, time-sensitive, and potentially fatal condition that can present with subtle signs requiring timely diagnosis and intervention. Although definitive diagnosis is most accurately made through computed tomography angiography, this can be a time-consuming study and the patient may be unstable, thus preventing the study’s completion. Chest radiography (CXR) signs of AD are classically taught yet have poor diagnostic reliability. Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) is increasingly used by emergency physicians for the rapid diagnosis of emergent conditions, with multiple case reports illustrating the sonographic signs of AD. We present a case of Stanford type B AD diagnosed by POCUS in the emergency department in a patient with vague symptoms, normal CXR, and without aorta dilation. A subsequent review of CXR versus sonographic signs of AD is described.

  • 1 supplemental video

Head of the Bed Down: Paradoxical Management for Paradoxical Herniation

Emergency physicians are well versed in cerebral herniation, pathology that typically results from increased intracranial pressure; however, paradoxical herniation is less common and requires opposing treatments. We describe a case of paradoxical herniation following lumbar puncture in a patient with previous hemicraniectomy. The symptomatology was similar to cerebral herniation from intracranial hypertension and included lethargy, bradycardia, headache, and compression of brain structures on non-contrast head computed tomography. However, contrary to treatment modalities for intracranial hypertension, our management strategy aimed to reverse intracerebral hypotension. Treatment for paradoxical herniation involved increasing intracranial pressure using fluid resuscitation and Trendelenburg positioning. In the intensive care unit our patient received an epidural blood patch and hydration with resolution of his symptoms.

A Case of Thiazide-induced Hypokalemic Paralysis

We describe the case of a patient presenting with odd neurologic symptoms initially thought to represent somatization who was found to have critical hypokalemia manifesting as hypokalemic non-periodic paralysis. It was determined that the patient had baseline hypokalemia as a function of alcohol abuse, exacerbated by self overmedication with hydrochlorothiazide for elevated blood pressure readings at home. The diagnosis was suspected when an electrocardiogram was obtained demonstrating a pseudo-prolonged QT interval with ST depression, consistent with T-U wave fusion and a QU interval with an absent T wave.1 The patient received oral and intravenous potassium and magnesium supplementation with resolution of symptoms.

Ventricular Tachycardia Storm Presenting as Vague Complaints to the Emergency Department

We present the case of a 75-year-old man with vague symptoms and hypotension found to be in electrical storm secondary to sustained ventricular tachycardia. The patient did not respond to intravenous amiodarone, magnesium, lidocaine, or four cardioversion attempts. This case illustrates the challenges in managing patients with electrical storm presenting to the emergency department.

Capsaicin: An Uncommon Exposure and Unusual Treatment

Capsaicin, the active component of chili peppers, is an alkaloid that causes tissue irritation and burning especially upon contact with mucous membranes. While favored in certain cuisines around the world, it has also been weaponized in the form of pepper sprays and bear repellents. When significant capsaicin exposures occur, patients may present to the emergency department; thus, providers should be prepared to manage these cases effectively. In this case report we discuss an unusual exposure of capsaicin to the vaginal mucosa with successful treatment.

Severe Cutaneous Findings in a Woman with Dermatomyositis

Dermatomyositis is an inflammatory condition characterized by proximal muscle weakness and classic skin manifestations. The severity of these symptoms, however, can vary greatly. Here we present the case of a woman with a particularly severe form of the cutaneous signs. It is important to recognize the potential severity of this condition as the uncontrolled progression of this disease can lead to respiratory compromise and cardiac involvement.

Polymethylmethacrylate Pulmonary Embolism Following Kyphoplasty

We report a case of polymethylmethacrylate cement pulmonary embolism (PE) that occurred two days following a minimally invasive kyphoplasty procedure. Our patient developed non-specific rib pain postoperatively followed by dyspnea, prompting presentation to the emergency department. The polymethylmetacrylate cement was visualized on initial chest radiograph and further characterized using computed tomography. The patient was admitted and anticoagulation started, later having an uncomplicated hospital course. The polymethylmethacrylate cement has a well-documented history of leakage and other postoperative complications. Cement PE, while rare, can present similarly to a thrombotic PE and requires adequate long-term anticoagulation with close follow-up.

An Unusual Presentation of Postpartum Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection

The postpartum population is one with a unique physiologic profile that predisposes these patients to rare and often life-threatening conditions. Herein, we discuss a case of a 37-year-old, multiparous female who presented to the emergency department with vague chest discomfort 14 days after delivering her sixth child via vaginal delivery. The patient was found to have elevated cardiac biomarkers and was ultimately diagnosed with pregnancy-related spontaneous coronary artery dissection (P-SCAD). This case report discusses the evaluation, pathophysiology, workup, and management of P-SCAD.

Central Retinal Artery Occlusion Associated with Carotid Artery Occlusion

Sudden, painless vision loss in patients with stroke risk factors is suspect for central retinal artery occlusion (CRAO), an ophthalmic emergency that in addition to ocular treatment warrants a thorough neurologic and vascular evaluation. In addition to the high risk of concurrent stroke, carotid artery stenosis and occlusion is often overlooked during the initial evaluation. Here we report a case of CRAO with concurrent ipsilateral complete left internal carotid artery (ICA) occlusion and right ICA critical narrowing, dissection and pseudoaneurysm, which subsequently improved with prompt hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Superficial Thrombosis of Pelvic Congestion Syndrome Mimicking Pelvic Abscess

Pelvic congestion syndrome (PCS) is an uncommon illness that is typically diagnosed after chronic pelvic pain. We present a case of superficial thrombosis of pelvic veins from PCS that presented to the emergency department (ED) as a previous diagnosis of pelvic abscess with cellulitis. PCS was diagnosed in the ED by computed tomography after an abnormal point-of-care ultrasound. Here we describe this unusual presentation and our approach to the diagnosis.

Incomplete Stevens-Johnson Syndrome Caused by Sulfonamide Antimicrobial Exposure

Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) is a mucocutaneous reaction typically brought on by medications or infections. The diagnosis of SJS is typically made when patients present with a variable appearing rash and involvement of the oral, ocular, or genital mucosa. However, there are rare reports of atypical or incomplete SJS. These cases are usually associated with children infected with Mycoplasma pneumoniae, which presents with severe mucositis but no rash. Herein, we report the first case of adult incomplete SJS brought on by sulfonamide antimicrobial use without clinical or laboratory evidence of M. pneumoniae infection.

Novel Application of Balloon Tamponade in Management of Acute Lower Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage

We present a case of acute lower gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding in the emergency department, in which specialists were not emergently available to render their support. A quick intervention using balloon tamponade technique with a Minnesota tube helped stabilize the patient until intensive care, gastroenterology, and surgical specialists could intervene. We also review previous cases from the literature in which a balloon tamponade method was used to control GI hemorrhage. Our novel application of the Minnesota tube is important for emergency physicians to consider for cases of acute lower GI bleeding, particularly in emergent presentations when specialists are not readily available in-hospital.

A Novel Technique to Reduce Reliance on Opioids for Analgesia from Acute Appendicitis: The Ultrasound-guided Erector Spinae Plane Block

Single injection, ultrasound-guided nerve blocks have drastically changed the multimodal approach to pain management of the acutely injured patient in the emergency department (ED). Ultrasound-guided femoral nerve blocks in the ED have become standard aspects of multiple, hospital system pain management protocols, with early evidence demonstrating improved patient outcomes. Developing a multimodal pain management strategy can improve analgesia while reducing reliance on opioids in this era of opioid addiction.1 The single injection, ultrasound-guided erector spinae plane (ESP) block is a technique safely used for pain control for rib fractures that can be easily performed at the bedside and integrated into optimal emergency care. A more inferiorly located ultrasound-guided ESP block has been recently described in the anesthesia literature for perioperative pain control for various abdominal surgeries but has not yet been described for patients with acute appendicitis. Here we describe a single injection, lower ESP block performed by emergency physicians that successfully alleviated pain from acute appendicitis in an ED patient awaiting definitive surgical treatment. Along with allowing clinicians to actively manage pain without reliance on opioids, this novel ED technique may improve patient care outcomes.

Operative Hysteroscopy Intravascular Absorption Syndrome Causing Hyponatremia with Associated Cerebral and Pulmonary Edema

Operative hysteroscopy intravascular absorption syndrome is an iatrogenic syndrome caused by absorption of hypo-osmolar distension medium during hysteroscopy, which can lead to rapid hyponatremia with resulting cerebral and pulmonary edema. We present a case of a 47-year-old female who underwent hysteroscopic myomectomy at an outpatient ambulatory surgical center who was brought to the emergency department with dyspnea, hypoxia, and altered mental status. Workup showed hyponatremia with cerebral edema on computed tomography of the head and pulmonary edema on chest radiograph. The patient improved after resuscitation with intravenous saline and supplemental oxygen, and she was discharged home the next day.

Misdiagnosed Spontaneous Carotid Cavernous Sinus Fistula

A 63-year-old female presented to the emergency department with worsening left-sided blurry vision and diplopia. She had previously seen several physicians and had been diagnosed with common ocular conditions – keratoconus and dry eye. However, despite treatment her symptoms were worsening. By the time her true underlying diagnosis was treated, she was left with permanent vision loss. This case report discusses the presentation, diagnosis, and treatment of her rare condition.

Atraumatic Back Pain Due to Quadratus Lumborum Spasm Treated by Physical Therapy with Manual Trigger Point Therapy in the Emergency Department

Manual trigger point therapy is effective for treating myofascial pain, yet it is not frequently used in emergency department (ED) settings. A 42-year-old female presented to the ED with atraumatic back pain. Her pain was thought to be myofascial, and we obtained a physical therapy consultation. Diagnosing the patient with quadratus lumborum spasm, the physical therapist treated her in the ED using manual trigger point therapy, and completely relieved her pain without requiring any medications. Manual trigger point therapy can provide non-opioid pain relief in ED patients, and physical therapists can apply this technique effectively in the ED.

Left Ventricular Regional Wall Motion Abnormality in the Setting of Acute Loperamide Overdose

Loperamide is an inexpensive, over-the-counter antidiarrheal agent with emerging reports of overdose due to its opioid properties. Although it is considered by many patients to be safe, cardiotoxicity has been reported, prompting the United States Food and Drug Administration to release a warning regarding the arrhythmogenic potential of loperamide. We present a case of a 32-year-old male presenting in acute loperamide overdose and subsequent cardiac dysrhythmia with focal wall motion abnormalities on echocardiogram. This finding has not been previously reported in the literature and is unique in this clinical presentation. We also highlight the potential mechanisms for loperamide cardiotoxicity and its challenging management.

Life-threatening Development of Cardiac Tamponade in the Span of 24 Hours

Cardiac tamponade is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Caused by the development of fluid in the pericardial space, it can result in a severe decrease in cardiac output. When encountering patients with severe hypotension and tachycardia, emergency physicians must always consider the diagnosis of tamponade to facilitate prompt and effective treatment and stabilization. We report our experience with a patient who developed life-threatening cardiac tamponade within a span of less than 24 hours.

  • 3 supplemental videos

Dyspnea in an Otherwise Healthy 18-year-old: The Importance of Point-of-care Ultrasonography

A healthy 18-year-old male presented to the emergency department with chest pain, palpitations, and dyspnea. His exam was unremarkable; however, point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) revealed right ventricular strain with a D-sign and enlarged right ventricle. He subsequently reported a history of factor V Leiden. His D-dimer was markedly elevated, and a computed tomography angiogram of the chest demonstrated submassive pulmonary embolism (PE). He was taken to the catheterization lab for directed thrombolysis and was discharged in good condition two days later. Factor V Leiden is the most common genetic cause of venous thromboembolism. POCUS can facilitate rapid diagnosis and risk stratification of patients with acute PE.

  • 2 supplemental videos

Abdominal Pain in the Elderly: An Unusual Case of Chronic Mesenteric Ischemia in the Emergency Department

Chronic mesenteric ischemia (CMI) is a rare cause of abdominal pain with the potential for significant morbidity and mortality. An infrequently described complication of CMI is acalculous cholecystitis. Historically, acalculous cholecystitis is thought to be multifactorial and usually occurs in the setting of severe illness. In CMI, the etiology is more likely chronic ischemia to the gallbladder leading to inflammation. We present a case of acalculous cholecystitis that presented insidiously in a patient with CMI.

Sonographic Detection of a Torsed Meckel’s Diverticulum Misinterpreted as Acute Appendicitis

A 38-year-old female presented to the emergency department (ED) with acute-onset right lower quadrant abdominal pain following two days of nausea and vomiting. Physical examination revealed right lower quadrant tenderness to palpation, rebound tenderness, and guarding. Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) of the right lower abdomen was performed and interpreted as probable appendicitis. However, upon laparoscopic examination of the abdomen, a benign-appearing appendix was visualized. Further investigation revealed the source of the patient’s pain to be a torsed Meckel’s diverticulum. Although rare, a torsed and inflamed Meckel’s diverticulum can be visualized by POCUS in the ED without the need for further imaging or delay.

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Trimethoprim/Sulfamethoxazole-Induced Bradycardia, Renal Failure, AV-Node Blockers, Shock and Hyperkalemia Syndrome

BRASH (bradycardia, renal failure, atrioventricular-node blockers, shock, and hyperkalemia) syndrome is a recently coined term for a condition that describes the severe bradycardia and shock associated with hyperkalemia in patients on atrioventricular (AV)-node blocking agents. The proposed pathophysiology involves a precipitating event that exacerbates renal dysfunction with resulting AV-node blocker and potassium accumulation that act synergistically to precipitate bradycardia and hypotension. This syndrome may be refractory to the usual management of bradycardia. This case describes BRASH syndrome precipitated by trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole.

Homicide Using an Air Weapon

The debate over the lethality and ownership of modern, high-powered weapons has recently grabbed the headlines. High-velocity air weapons, advertised as starter guns for children, can cause lethal injuries despite non-lethal appearing wounds. Presented is a rare case of a modern, high-powered air weapon used in a homicide. A literature search yielded reports of only three previous murders by air weapon in the United States and only one involving injury to the thorax. In the current case, the killer used a diabolo pellet to penetrate the chest. The pathway tracked through the sternum, piercing the anterior pericardial sac and perforating the right ventricle, which led to a pericardial effusion. The pellet embolized to the left pulmonary artery and eventually the vasculature of the left lung. Cause of death was a penetrating gunshot wound of the chest most likely leading to cardiac tamponade. This case exemplifies several important characteristics of penetrating chest trauma from air guns: first, air rifles, with exit velocities up to 1200 feet per second, can kill and have been used in accidental deaths, homicides and suicides; secondly, diabolo pellets may embolize just as bullets can; and lastly, minor external damage may mask major internal destruction.

Point-of-Care Ultrasound-Directed Evaluation of Elbow Effusion

A 53-year-old male presented with pain in the right elbow that was sudden in onset and progressively worsening over approximately eight hours. The pain was exacerbated with any movement of the elbow. Of note, he had been recently admitted for robotic prostatectomy and had a prolonged hospital stay requiring a course of antibiotics. This case report details the emergency department evaluation of septic arthritis of the elbow with a focus on best practices for ultrasound-guided elbow arthrocentesis.

Images in Emergency Medicine

Steal Phenomenon with Tonsillar Arteriovenous Malformation

Cranial vascular malformations can cause symptoms of headache, stroke, transient ischemic attack, or other cerebrovascular disorders due to steal phenomenon. Subclavian steal phenomenon is a localized change in cerebral perfusion from a cranial arteriovenous malformation (AVM). We present the only recorded case of a tonsillar AVM causing a transient ischemic attack due to steal phenomenon.

Tethered Cord Syndrome

Tethered spinal cord syndrome refers to signs and symptoms of motor and sensory dysfunction related to increased tension on the spinal cord due to its abnormal attachment; it has classically been associated with a low-lying conus medullaris. Treatment is primarily surgical and has varying degrees of results. Although rarely diagnosed in the emergency department, the emergency physician must be aware of the disease in patients presenting with signs and symptoms concerning for cauda equina syndrome.

Twiddler’s Syndrome

Twiddler’s syndrome refers to a rare condition in which a pacemaker or automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (AICD) malfunctions due to coiling of the device in the skin pocket and resultant lead displacement. This image is the chest radiograph (CXR) of a 54-year-old male who presented to the emergency department with chest pain five months after his AICD was placed. The CXR shows AICD leads coiled around the device and the absence of leads in the ventricle consistent with Twiddler’s syndrome. Patients with twiddler’s syndrome should be admitted for operative intervention.

The Dangers of Barbecuing: An Interesting Case of a Foreign Body in the Throat

Swallowing of foreign bodies (FB), and sensation of such in the throat, is a common complaint in the emergency department setting, with roughly 80,000 visits in 2010 for FB ingestion.1 Grill wire brushes are a rarely reported, accidental FB ingestion, although recent literature suggests that it is more common than initially thought.2 This is a report of a female with acute onset odynophagia after a meal, with a normal laryngoscopic exam that used flexible fiberoptics. Evidence of a metallic linear density was present in the retropharynx on computed tomography imaging, most consistent with a wire from a grill wire brush.

Extravasation from a Misplaced Intraosseous Catheter

A 75-year old female presented in cardiac arrest with a right tibial intraosseous (IO) catheter through which prehospital medications were administered. The catheter, which had been placed by emergency medical services, was noted in the emergency department to be misplaced and was removed. Due to extravasation of the medications, the patient suffered localized tissue necrosis and eventually required skin grafting. This case illustrates the importance of confirming appropriate IO placement.

An Unusual Presentation of Cholecystoduodenal Fistula: Abdominal Pain out of Proportion to Exam

Cholecystoduodenal fistula (CDF) is a rare complication of gallbladder disease. Clinical presentation is variable, and preoperative diagnosis is challenging due to the non-specific symptoms of CDF. We discuss a 61-year-old male with a history of atrial fibrillation who presented with severe abdominal pain out of proportion to exam. The patient was diagnosed promptly and successfully managed non-operatively. This case presentation emphasizes the need to maintain a broad differential diagnosis for abdominal pain out of proportion to exam, with the possibility of a biliary-enteric fistula as a possible cause. It also stresses the importance of a multimodality imaging approach to arrive at a final diagnosis.

Situs Inversus: Inferior-Lateral ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction on Right-Sided Electrocardiogram

Dextrocardia is a rare anatomical anomaly in which the heart is located in the patient’s right hemithorax with its apex directed to the right. Although it usually does not pose any serious health risks, patients with undiagnosed dextrocardia present a diagnostic challenge especially in those presenting with chest pain. Traditional left-sided electrocardiograms (ECG) inadequately capture the electrical activity of a heart positioned in the right hemithorax, which if unnoticed could delay or even miss an acute coronary syndrome diagnosis. Here, we present a case of a patient with dextrocardia presenting with chest pain and diagnosed with ST-elevation myocardial infarction using a right-sided ECG.

Teenage Curiosity: Magnetic Attraction Gone Wrong

A 13-year-old male presented with suprapubic pain, hesitancy, and dysuria beginning seven hours prior to arrival. After initial evasiveness, the patient admitted to inserting small, magnetic ball bearings into his penis. Vital signs and physical exam were unremarkable aside from mild suprapubic tenderness to palpation. Pelvic radiograph demonstrated about 45 radiopaque beads within the urethra and bladder. While urethral foreign body (FB) is an uncommon diagnosis, it is essential to identify quickly as lifelong complications can arise. Magnetic FBs are particularly concerning due to possible ischemia from compression injury and difficulty of removal. Safety concerns led to temporary market removal of neodymium magnetic toys, but sales resumed in 2016.

Munson’s Sign: An Obvious Finding to Explain Acute Vision Loss

Keratoconus is a progressive disorder affecting the cornea, which causes the cornea to become weakened and conical in appearance. The resultant decrease in structural integrity of the cornea predisposes affected individuals to acute corneal hydrops, a break in Descemet’s membrane, the deepest layer of the cornea, resulting in pain and acute vision loss. We present here a case of this little-known cause of acute vision loss, and an example of Munson’s sign, which is a v-shaped protrusion of the lower eyelid on downward gaze that is characteristic of advanced keratoconus. We hope to highlight Munson’s sign as a simple identifier of keratoconus in an otherwise undiagnosed individual suspected of having acute corneal hydrops.

An Unusual Case of Stridor: Severe Tracheal Narrowing Secondary to Esophageal Food Impaction

Foreign body impaction (FBI) in the esophagus has the potential to be a serious condition with a high mortality rate. Although the majority of foreign bodies trapped within the esophagus pass spontaneously, some do require endoscopic intervention. This case discusses a 95-year-old-female with a history of cerebral vascular accident who presented with acute onset respiratory distress with inspiratory stridor. The patient denied any episodes of choking or foreign body sensation. Further imaging revealed a large food bolus within the esophagus with extensive tracheal narrowing. The patient was diagnosed promptly and successfully managed endoscopically. This case presentation emphasizes the need to maintain a high index of clinical suspicion for FBI in high-risk populations, especially when the patient’s history makes it unlikely. In the setting of respiratory complications, airway protection remains a priority, but an accurate diagnosis with timely intervention is paramount.

Computed Tomography Imaging in Aortic Dissection

Emergency physicians often rely on a “triple-rule-out” computed tomography (CT) where image acquisition is timed to obtain image quality equivalent to dedicated coronary CT angiography, pulmonary CT angiography, and thoracic aorta CT angiography. This case highlights the importance of obtaining CT angiography dedicated to the aorta in the setting of high clinical suspicion for aortic disease if initial CT pulmonary angiogram is negative for aortic disease.

Asteroid Hyalosis Seen on Ocular Point-of-Care Ultrasound

We present a case of a patient who underwent ultrasound evaluation for potential blunt ocular trauma. She was found to have multiple, freely mobile, scintillating hyperechoic opacities within the vitreous that was diagnosed as asteroid hyalosis, a rare but benign condition easily confused with vitreous hemorrhage, retinal detachment, lens dislocation, or foreign body on ocular ultrasound.

  • 1 supplemental video