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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Clinicopathological Cases from the University of Maryland

19-year-old Woman with Intermittent Weakness

Introduction: Systemic weakness is a common chief complaint of patients presenting to the emergency department (ED). A well thought out approach to the assessment and workup of these patients is key to diagnostic accuracy and definitive therapy.

Case Presentation: In this case, a 19-year-old female presented to the ED with generalized weakness and near syncope. She had global weakness in her extremities and multiple electrolyte abnormalities.

Discussion: This case takes the reader through the differential diagnosis and evaluation of a patient with weakness and profound electrolyte derangements. It includes a discussion of the diagnostic studies and calculations that ultimately led to the patient’s diagnosis.

Medical Legal Case Report

Three Cases of Emergency Department Medical Malpractice Involving “Consultations”: How Is Liability Legally Determined?

This article presents three successfully litigated medical malpractice cases involving emergency physicians and consultants. We discuss the respective case medical diagnoses, as well as established legal principles that determine in a court proceeding which provider will be liable. Specifically, we explain the legal principles of “patient physician relationship” and “affirmative act.”

Case Series

Nebulized Tranexamic Acid in Secondary Post-Tonsillectomy Hemorrhage: Case Series and Review of the Literature

Introduction: Post-tonsillectomy hemorrhage is a serious postoperative complication, and its acute management can present a challenge for the emergency provider. Although various strategies have been proposed, guidance on the best approach for management of this condition in the emergency department (ED) setting remains limited. Anecdotal reports of the use of nebulized tranexamic acid (TXA) for management of tonsillar bleeding have emerged over the past two years. Two recently published case reports describe the successful use of nebulized TXA for stabilization of post-tonsillectomy hemorrhage in an adult and a pediatric patient.

Case Series: Eight patients who presented to our ED with secondary post-tonsillectomy hemorrhage received nebulized TXA for hemostatic management. The most common TXA dose used was 500 milligrams, and all but one patient received a single dose of the medication in the ED. Hemostatic benefit was observed in six patients, with complete bleeding cessation observed in five cases. Interventions prior to nebulized TXA administration were attempted in three of the six patients and included ice water gargle, direct pressure with TXA-soaked gauze, and nebulized racemic epinephrine. All but one of the patients were taken to the operating room for definitive management after initial stabilization in the ED.

Conclusion: Nebulized TXA may offer a hemostatic benefit and aid in stabilization of tonsillectomy hemorrhage in the acute care setting, prior to definitive surgical intervention.  Consideration of general principles of nebulization and aerosol particle size may be an important factor for drug delivery to the target tissue site.

Case Report

Euglycemic Diabetic Ketoacidosis in Type 1 Diabetes on Insulin Pump, with Acute Appendicitis: A Case Report

Introduction: Recently, euglycemic diabetic ketoacidosis has been an increasing topic of discussionwithin emergency medicine literature. Euglycemic diabetic ketoacidosis can easily be missed, as anormal point-of-care glucose often mistakenly precludes the work-up of diabetic ketoacidosis.

Case Report: A 16-year-old female with a past medical history of type 1 diabetes presented tothe emergency department with altered mental status, vomiting, and abdominal pain. She wasdiagnosed with euglycemic diabetic ketoacidosis.

Conclusion: Reported cases of euglycemic diabetic ketoacidosis are most frequently attributedto sodium glucose cotransporter-2 inhibitors, but other potential causes have been discussed inthe literature. In this patient, a starvation state with continued insulin use in the setting of acuteappendicitis led to her condition.

An Anomalous Cause of Deep Venous Thrombosis: A Case Report

Introduction: Lower extremity deep venous thrombosis (DVT) is a common diagnosis in the emergency department (ED). Deep venous thromboses can be the result of anatomical variation in the vasculature that predisposes the patient to thrombosis. May-Thurner syndrome (MTS) is one such anatomic variant defined by extrinsic compression of the left common iliac vein between the right common iliac artery and lumbar vertebrae.

Case Report: We report such a case of a 39-year-old woman with no risk factors for thromboembolic disease who presented to the ED with extensive unilateral leg swelling and was ultimately diagnosed with MTS.

Conclusion: This diagnosis is an important consideration particularly in patients who are young, female, have scoliosis or spinal abnormalities, or are at low risk for DVT yet who present with extensive lower extremity swelling and are found to have proximal thrombus burden. Often further imaging, anticoagulation, angioplasty, or thrombectomy are indicated to prevent morbidity and post-thrombotic syndrome in these patients.

Altered Mental Status in the Emergency Department – When to Consider Anti-LGI-1 Encephalitis: Case Report

Introduction: Anti-leucine-rich glioma inactivated-1 (LGI-1) is one of few antibodies implicated in limbic encephalitis, a syndrome that can result in permanent neurological symptoms if left untreated.

Case Report: We present a patient with dystonic seizures, progressive cognitive decline, psychiatric symptoms and short-term memory loss, and mild hyponatremia diagnosed with anti-LGI-1 antibody limbic encephalitis.

Conclusion: There are few reports in the emergency medicine community describing anti-LGI-1 antibody limbic encephalitis. Delay in diagnosis can risk irreversible limbic damage. Therefore, it is important for the emergency physician to be aware of anti-LGI-1 antibody limbic encephalitis when presented with adult-onset seizures and altered mental status of unknown etiology.

Anaphylaxis Caused by Swimming: A Case Report of Cold-induced Urticaria in the Emergency Department

Introduction: Cold-induced urticaria is a subset of physical urticaria that presents as wheals or angioedema in response to cold exposure. While most cases are idiopathic, secondary associations with infections, medications, and certain cancers have been described.Case Report: We discuss the case of a 50-year-old male with recent episodes of urticaria from cold air exposure following a flu-like illness six months prior, who presented with symptoms of anaphylaxis upon jumping into a lake.Conclusion: While the majority of patients develop localized symptoms, understanding this disease entity is imperative as up to one-third of patients can develop severe symptoms including anaphylaxis, particularly from water submersion during activities such as swimming.

Under the Radar: A Case Report of a Missed Aortoenteric Fistula

Introduction: An aortoenteric fistula (AEF) is an abnormal connection between the aorta and the gastrointestinal tract that develops due to a pathologic cause. It is a rare, but life-threatening, cause of gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding. Although no single imaging modality exists that definitively diagnoses AEF, computed tomography angiography (CTA) of the abdomen and pelvis is the preferred initial test due to widespread availability and efficiency. 

Case Report: Many deaths occur before the diagnosis is made or prior to surgical intervention. We describe a case of a patient with a history of aortic graft repair who presented with active GI bleeding.

Conclusion: Although CTA can make the diagnosis of AEF, it cannot adequately rule it out. In patients with significant GI bleeding and prior history of aortic surgery, vascular surgery should be consulted early on, even if CTA is equivocal.

A Baffling Bump: A Case Report of an Unusual Chest Wall Mass in a Pediatric Patient

Introduction: Chest wall masses are rare in children, but the differential diagnosis is broad and can include traumatic injury, neoplasm, and inflammatory or infectious causes. We report a novel case of an eight-year-old, previously healthy female who presented to the emergency department (ED) with one month of cough, fevers, weight loss, and an anterior chest wall mass.

Case Report: The patient’s ultimate diagnosis was necrotizing pneumonia with pneumatocele extending into the chest wall. This case is notable for the severity of the patient’s pulmonary disease given its extension through the chest wall, and for the unique speciation of her infection.

Conclusion: Although necrotizing pneumonia is a rare complication of community-acquired pneumonia, it is important for the emergency physician to recognize it promptly as it indicates severe progression of pulmonary disease even in children with normal and stable vital signs, as in this case.  The emergency physician should consider complications of pneumonia including pneumatocele and empyema necessitans when presented with an anterior chest wall mass in a pediatric patient.  Additionally, point-of-care ultrasound was used in the ED to facilitate the diagnosis of this illness and was particularly useful in determining the continuity of the patient’s lung infection with her extrathoracic chest wall mass.

The Case of the Lime-green Stool: A Case Report and Review of Occult Blood Testing in the Emergency Department

Introduction: Food dyes mimicking gastrointestinal (GI) hemorrhage have been described in literature. However, reports of food additives causing melanotic stools and falsely positive fecal occult blood tests (FOBT) are uncommon in literature.

Case Report: We present a case of a 93-year-old with FOBT positive melanotic stool, felt to be falsely positive due to food additives.

Conclusion: Evaluation for GI bleeding accounts for 0.3% of yearly visits to the emergency department (ED).1 While FOBT is commonly used, its clinical validity in the ED is not supported by guidelines. We showcase the limitations of the FOBT and review the causes of false positive FOBT.

Stroke or No Stroke: A Case Report of Bilingual Aphasia

Introduction: Bilingual aphasia is an atypical stroke presentation in the multilingual patient where an isolated aphasia occurs in one language while the other remains unaffected.

Case Report: A multilingual male presented to the emergency department with expressive aphasia to English but who was still able to speak fluently in French. Receptive English was preserved. While his National Institute of Health Stroke Scale score was technically zero, his pure aphasia component qualified him as an exception. He regained some repetitive English, so fibrinolyitic therapy was not initiated.

Conclusion: Bilingual aphasia is an indication for fibrinolysis given the impact that a pure aphasic stroke has on quality of life.

Anchoring on COVID-19: A Case Report of Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis Masquerading as COVID-19

Introduction: Human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA) is caused by Anaplasma phagocytophilum and transmitted through the deer tick. Most cases are mild and can be managed as an outpatient, but rare cases can produce severe symptoms.

Case Report: A 43-year-old male presented with severe respiratory distress mimicking coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Labs and imaging were consistent with COVID-19; however, polymerase chain reaction was negative twice. Peripheral smear revealed inclusion bodies consistent with HGA.

Conclusion: Human granulocytic anaplasmosis is an uncommon diagnosis and rarely causes severe disease. Recognition of unique presentations can aid in quicker diagnosis, especially when mimicking presentations frequently seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Case Report: Diagnosis of Late Spontaneous Intraocular Lens Dislocation on Point-of-care Ultrasound

Introduction: Spontaneous intraocular lens (IOL) dislocation is a rare, but serious, complication following cataract surgery.

Case Report: We report a case of patient with a remote history of cataract surgery presenting to the emergency department with monocular blurred vision. Ocular point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) facilitated diagnosis of a late spontaneous IOL dislocation.

Discussion: Prosthetic IOL dislocations are being reported with increasing frequency. Prompt recognition of IOL dislocation is essential to prevent secondary complications, including acute angle-closure glaucoma and retinal detachment, which can result in permanent vision loss.

Conclusion: Point-of-care ultrasound is a rapid, noninvasive imaging modality for early detection of IOL dislocation to help guide management, improve patient outcomes, and mitigate long-term sequelae.

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Anterior Lung Evisceration Following an Assault with Knife: A Case Report

Introduction: Evisceration of the lung is a rare consequence of open chest trauma that can be fatal. Evisceration of the lung refers to the protrusion of lung parenchyma through a defect of the thoracic wall, without parietal pleural or skin coverage.

Case report: A 20-year-old man was brought to the emergency department (ED) with left lung evisceration from stab wounds. The eviscerated lung was left in place, and the patient was not intubated in the ED. He was immediately taken to the operating room (OR) for intubation and surgical repair. Other significant injuries were ruled out, the eviscerated lung was retrieved, the chest wall defect was closed, and the patient recovered well. He was discharged after seven days in good condition.

Conclusion: The initial management of patients with lung evisceration is critical to prevent rapid decompensation and death. Appropriate ED airway management, lung retrieval in the OR, and thoracic wall repair is recommended for patients with lung evisceration.

Case Report: An Intracranial Complication of COVID-19 Nasopharyngeal Swab

Introduction: Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaks are often the result of trauma or recent surgical procedures; however, a subset can develop from non-traumatic etiologies. Cerebrospinal fluid leaks from congenital and spontaneous encephaloceles can be clinically occult and have devastating consequences if undetected for prolonged periods of time. This report highlights a unique case of meningitis after CSF leak caused by ruptured congenital meningocele during a routine nasopharyngeal swab.

Case Report: A 54-year-old female with diagnosed CSF leak presented to the emergency department (ED) with acute onset of severe headache, and neck and back pain. Prior to this presentation, the patient had experienced two months of persistent headache and rhinorrhea since her coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) nasopharyngeal swab. As part of her outpatient workup, an otolaryngology consultation with subsequent beta-2 transferrin testing and magnetic resonance imaging was performed and she was diagnosed with a CSF leak from ruptured congenital meningocele. On ED presentation, she was afebrile, but with mild tachycardia, leukocytosis, and meningismus. Lumbar puncture revealed acute streptococcal meningitis. This patient’s meningitis developed due to prolonged occult CSF leak after her COVID-19 nasopharyngeal swab ruptured a pre-existing congenital meningocele.

Conclusion: Nasopharyngeal swabs are being performed much more frequently due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All front-line providers should be aware of the potential presence and rupture of congenital meningoceles in patients who have undergone recent nasopharyngeal swab when risk-stratifying for potential CSF leak and meningitis.

Cryptococcus gattii Meningitis in a Previously Healthy Young Woman: A Case Report

Introduction: Cryptococcus gattii (C. gatti) is a rare cause of meningitis in the United States. Outbreaks in new geographic distributions in the past few decades raise concern that climate change may be contributing to a broader distribution of this pathogen. We review a case of C. gattii in a 23-year-old woman in Northern California who was diagnosed via lumbar puncture after six weeks of headache, blurred vision, and tinnitus.

Case Report: A 23-year-old previously healthy young woman presented to the emergency department (ED) after multiple visits to primary care, other EDs, and neurologists, for several weeks of headache, nausea, tinnitus, and blurred vision. On examination the patient was found to have a cranial nerve VI palsy (impaired abduction of the left eye) and bilateral papilledema on exam. Lumbar puncture had a significantly elevated opening pressure. Cerebrospinal fluid studies were positive for C. gattii. The patient was treated with serial lumbar punctures, followed by lumbar drain, as well as amphotericin and flucytosine. The patient had improvement in headache and neurologic symptoms and was discharged to another facility that specializes in management of this disease to undergo further treatment with immunomodulators and steroids.

Conclusion: Fungal meningitis is uncommon in the US, particularly among immunocompetent patients. Due to climate change, C. gattii may be a new pathogen to consider. This finding raises important questions to the medical community about the way global climate change affects day to day medical care now, and how it may change in the future.

Acute Hemiballismus as the Initial Manifestation of Ischemic Stroke: A Case Report

Introduction: Cerebrovascular disease often presents with “negative” symptoms such as weakness with reduced movement of body parts or sensory loss. Rarely do “positive” symptoms such as abnormal movements manifest in acute stroke, with hemichorea being a very rare manifestation. 

Case Report: This is a case report of a 62-year-old chronic smoker with no known past medical history who presented with choreatic movements of his arm and leg. Magnetic resonance imaging of the brain showed changes consistent with an infarct in the right centrum semiovale. He was treated with dual antiplatelets and was noted to have subsequent improvement in symptoms. 

Conclusion: Recognition and awareness of stroke presenting as movement disorders in the emergency department can help prevent delays in diagnosis and treatment.

Erector Spinae Plane Block in the Emergency Department for Upper Extremity: A Case Report

Introduction: The erector spinae plane block (ESPB) has been described as an effective analgesic modality in the emergency department (ED) for thoracic pain. It has not previously been described to treat ED patients with pain in the upper extremity. 

Case Report: We present a case of a 52-year-old female who presented to the ED with an acute exacerbation of her chronic radicular left arm pain originating after a fall she sustained one year prior. After a variety of analgesic modalities failed to control her pain, an ESPB was used to successfully treat her pain and facilitate discharge from the ED. 

Conclusion: A significant portion of patients who present to the ED have underlying chronic pain; however, opioids are a potentially dangerous and ineffective modality to treat chronic pain. In addition to avoiding opiates, the ESPB has the advantage of preserving motor function, thus avoiding the complications associated with brachial plexus blockade.

Images in Emergency Medicine

Acute Thromboembolism from Trauma in a Patient with Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Case Presentation: A 64-year-old man with a history of a 5.5-centimeter (cm) abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) presented to the emergency department (ED) complaining of severe back pain after climbing over a fence and falling a distance of eight feet. Prior to arrival, the prehospital paramedics reported that the patient did not have palpable pulses in either lower extremity. The initial physical examination in the ED was significant for absent dorsalis pedis pulses bilaterally as well as absent posterior tibialis pulses bilaterally and cold, insensate lower extremities. Point-of-care ultrasound identified an approximate 7-cm infrarenal AAA with a mural thrombus present. After receiving several computed tomography (CT) studies including CT head without contrast and CT angiography of the chest, abdomen and pelvis, the patient was diagnosed with acute thrombosis of AAA and associated thromboembolic occlusion of both his right and left distal iliac vessels causing bilateral acute limb ischemia. He immediately received unfractionated heparin and was admitted to the hospital for embolectomy and intra-arterial tissue plasminogen activator.

Discussion: Acute thrombosis of AAA and subsequent thromboembolic events are a rare but significant complication that can occur in patients with a history of AAA. Thromboembolic events may occur spontaneously or in the setting of blunt abdominal trauma. Common presenting signs and symptoms include distal limb ischemia and absent femoral pulses. Timely management and recognition of this rare complication is vital as this condition can ultimately result in limb loss or death if not treated in a timely manner. Heparinization after confirmation of non-ruptured AAA as well as vascular surgery, and therapeutic and vascular interventional radiology consultations are key steps that should be taken to decrease patient morbidity and mortality.

Staghorn Calculus: A Stone out of Proportion to Pain

Case Presentation: A 25-year-old woman presented to the emergency department with two weeks of crampy right-flank pain, and urinary urgency and frequency. She was found to have a staghorn calculus filling her entire right renal pelvis on computed tomography imaging.

Discussion: In contrast to ureteral calculi, staghorn calculi are more commonly observed in female patients and typically present with an indolent clinical course. A low threshold for imaging should be maintained, as prompt referral to urology for stone removal or treatment is necessary. Staghorn calculi have a high likelihood of leading to renal failure or urosepsis without treatment.

Gastric Perforation During MRI After Ingestion of Ferromagnetic Foreign Bodies

Case Presentation: A 65-year-old male with schizophrenia and intellectual disability ingested what was reported to be two AA batteries, prior to a scheduled magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study. He developed severe abdominal pain and presented to the emergency department the following day with hypovolemic/septic shock. General surgery retrieved two metal sockets and a clevis pin from the stomach prior to surgical repair of a gastric perforation. This case highlights a rare yet critical outcome of ingesting ferromagnetic foreign bodies prior to an MRI study.

Discussion: Medical literature on this subject is scarce as indwelling metal foreign bodies are a contraindication to obtaining an MRI. Yet some patients with indwelling metallic foreign bodies proceed with MRI studies due to either challenges in communication such as age, psychiatric/mental debility, or unknowingly having an indwelling metal foreign body. In this case, the patient surreptitiously ingested metal objects prior to obtaining an MRI.

Serotonin Syndrome Triggered by Increasing the Dose of Quetiapine

Case presentation: An 85-year-old woman with a history of depression treated with polypharmacy including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor presented to the emergency department with head, and upper and lower limb tremors four hours after increasing the dose of quetiapine from 12.5 milligrams (mg) per day to 25 mg/day. She was diagnosed with serotonin syndrome (SS), and all medications except clotiazepam were discontinued. The symptoms subsided within 48 hours.

Discussion: The use of atypical antipsychotics alone seldom increases the risk of SS. However, combining atypical antipsychotics with serotonergic agents increases the risk of SS because the activity of serotonin receptor subtype 1A is relatively enhanced. This report suggests that physicians should be aware that even a small increase in quetiapine could pose a risk of developing SS.

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Uveal Melanoma Identified as Ocular Mass on Point-of-care Ultrasound

Case Presentation: A 41-year-old man presented to the emergency department with five months of progressive monocular vision loss in his right eye, which he described as a gradually descending and enlarging black spot. He had no light perception in his right eye with elevated intraocular pressure and an afferent pupillary defect, while his left eye visual acuity and pupillary exam was normal. Point-of-care ultrasound demonstrated a hyperechoic, pedunculated mass in the posterior chamber of his right eye, consistent with a diagnosis of ocular melanoma. Ophthalmology scheduled the patient for an elective, right eye enucleation the following week, after which a diagnosis of uveal melanoma (UM) was confirmed on histopathology.

Discussion: Uveal melanoma is an uncommon diagnosis that requires prompt intervention and surveillance due to the possibility of distant metastases arising in up to 50% of patients. Emergency department diagnosis of UM may be confounded by features of other intraocular pathology, such as increased ocular pressure or the finding of retinal detachment on fundoscopy. When emergency providers encounter glaucoma or retinal detachment on physical exam, point-of-care ultrasonography represents a key adjunct in the timely diagnosis and referral of this potentially vision- and life-threatening malignancy.