My patient with headache following a fall has a pink cerebrospinal fluid but the lab reports it xanthochromic. Isn’t xanthochromia supposed to describe yellow discoloration only?

Although xanthochromia literally means yellow color, when it comes to describing the color of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a more liberal—but perhaps misleading— definition of xanthochromia extending to other colors, such as pink and orange, is commonly found in the literature. 1-5

In the presence of red blood cells (RBCs) in the subarachnoid space, as seen in subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), 3 pigments are formed by the breakdown of hemoglobin in the CSF: oxyhemoglobin, methemoglobin, and bilirubin. Oxyhemoglobin is typically red but has also been reported to appear orange or orange-yellow with dilution.6  Methemoglobin is brown and bilirubin is yellow. Of these pigments, only bilirubin can be formed solely from in vivo conversion, while oxyhemoglobin and methemoglobin may also form after CSF has been obtained (eg, in tubes).  Due to the suboptimal reliability of visual inspection, some have argued for the routine use of spectrophotometry of the CSF instead in patients with suspected SAH.7

In our patient, the “pink xanthochromia” may be related to RBC breakdown either due to a SAH or as a result of hemolysis in the sample tubes themselves, especially if there was a delay in processing the specimen. Even if he had “true xanthochromia” with yellow discoloration of CSF, make sure to exclude other causes besides SAH, such as high CSF protein, hyperbilirubinemia, rifampin therapy, and high carotenoid intake (eg, carrots).



  1. Seehusen DA, Reeves MM, Fomin DA. Cerebrospinal fluid analysis. Am Fam Phys 2003;68:1103-8.
  2. Edlow JA, Bruner KS, Horowitz GL. Xanthochromia. A survey of laboratory methodology and its clinical implications. Arch Pthol Lab Med 2002;126:413-15.
  3. Lo BM, Quinn SM. Gross xanthochromia on lumbar puncture may not represent an acute subarachnoid hemorrhage. Am J Emerg Med 2009;27:621-23.
  4. Koenig M. Approach to the patient with bloody or pigmented cerebrospinal fluid. In Irani DN, ed, Cerebrospinal fluid in clinical practice. 2009.
  5. Welch H, Hasbun R. Bacterial infections of the central nervous system. In Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 2010.
  6. Barrows LJ, Hunter FT, Banker BQ. The nature and clinical significance of pigments in the cerebrospinal fluid. Brain 1955; 58: 59-80.
  7. Cruickshank A, Auld P, Beetham R, et al. Revised national guidelines for analysis of cerebrospinal fluid for bilirubin in suspected subarachnoid haemorrhage. Ann Clin Biochem 2008;45:238-44.

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My patient with headache following a fall has a pink cerebrospinal fluid but the lab reports it xanthochromic. Isn’t xanthochromia supposed to describe yellow discoloration only?

My hospitalized patient with sepsis has persistently elevated lactic acid despite volume resuscitation, source control, and adequate oxygenation. What could I be missing?

Although the causes of lactic acidosis are legion (eg, sepsis, tissue hypoperfusion, ischemic bowel, malignancy, medications, liver dysfunction), thiamine deficiency (TD) is an often-overlooked cause of persistently elevated serum lactic acid (LA) in critically ill hospitalized patients,1 reported in 20-70% of septic patients.2  Septic shock patients may be particularly at risk of TD because of increased mitochondrial oxidative stress, decreased nutritional intake and presence of comorbid conditions (eg,  alcoholism, persistent vomiting).3

Early recognition of TD in hospitalized patients may be particularly difficult because of the frequent absence of the “classic” signs and symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy (eg, ataxia, cranial nerve palsies and confusion) and lack of readily available confirmatory laboratory tests.4

TD-related lactic acidosis should be suspected when an elevated LA persists despite adequate treatment of its putative cause(s) (4,5). Administration of IV thiamine in this setting may result in rapid clearance of LA.3-5

TD causes lactic acidosis type B which is due to the generation of excess LA, not impairment in tissue oxygenation, as is the case for lactic acidosis type A. Thiamine is an essential co-factor in aerobic metabolism, facilitating the conversion of pyruvate to acetyl-CoA which enters the citric acid (Krebs) cycle within the mitochondria. In TD, pyruvate does not undergo aerobic metabolism and is converted to LA instead, leading to lactic acidosis.

Bonus pearl: Did you know that because of its limited tissue storage, thiamine stores may be depleted within only 3 weeks of reduced oral intake!


  1. O’Donnell K. Lactic acidosis: a lesser known side effect of thiamine deficiency. Practical Gastroenterol March 2017:24.
  2. Marik PE. Thiamine: an essential component of the metabolic resuscitation protocol. Crit Care Med 2018;46:1869-70.
  3. Woolum JA, Abner EL, Kelly A, et al. Effect of thiamine administration on lactate clearance and mortality in patients with septic shock. Crit Care Med 2018;46:1747-52.
  4. Kourouni I, Pirrotta S, Mathew J, et al. Thiamine: an underutilized agent in refractory lactic acidosis. Chest 2016; 150:247A.
  5. Shah S, Wald E. Type B lactic acidosis secondary to thiamine deficiency in a child with malignancy. Pediatrics 2015; 135:e221-e224.

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My hospitalized patient with sepsis has persistently elevated lactic acid despite volume resuscitation, source control, and adequate oxygenation. What could I be missing?

Should I continue nadolol in my patient with cirrhosis and refractory ascites?

Under certain circumstances, you may need to! Although nonselective beta blockers (NSBBs), such as nadolol and propranolol, have been the cornerstone of medical treatment of portal hypertension in preventing variceal bleeding in patients with cirrhosis for decades, recent reports of their association with worsening survival, increased risk of hepatorenal syndrome and acute kidney injury in patients with refractory ascites or spontaneous bacterial peritonitis [SBP]) 1,2 have added controversy to their routine use in end-stage cirrhosis.

This is because patients with end-stage cirrhosis may be highly dependent on their cardiac output (particularly the heart rate) in maintaining an adequate arterial blood pressure 3-5 and the negative inotropic and chronotropic effects of NSBBs blunt this compensatory mechanism. The result is a drop in the cardiac output that may be particularly significant in the presence of conditions already associated with hypotension, such as sepsis, spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (SBP), or hemorrhage, further increasing the risk of renal hypoperfusion and hepatorenal syndrome.3

Although 2 meta-analysis studies failed to find an association between NSBBs and increased mortality among patients with cirrhosis and ascites, 6,7 serious concerns over the adverse effects of these drugs in at least a subset of patients has not waned.  Some have recommended reducing NSBB dose or discontinuing treatment in patients with refractory ascites or SBP and any of the following parameters: 4

  • Systolic blood pressure <90 mmHg
  • Serum creatinine >1.5 mg/dL
  • Hyponatremia <130 mmol/L

Similar recommendations were made by a 2015 consensus conference on individualizing the care of patients with portal hypertension.

In the absence of randomized-controlled studies, it seems prudent to proceed with more caution when using NSBBs in patients with end-stage cirrhosis and watch closely for any signs of hypotension or renal function deterioration.

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  1. Serste T, Njimi H, Degre D, et al. The use of beta-lackers is associated with the occurrence of acute kidney injury in severe hepatitis. Liver In 2015;35:1974-82.
  2. Mandorfer M, Bota S, Schwabl P, et al. Nonselective beta blockers increase risk of hepatorenal syndrome and death in patients with cirrhosis and spontaneous bacterial peritonitis. Gastroenterol 2014;146:1680-90.
  3. Garcia-Tsao G. The use of nonselective beta blockers for treatment of portal hypertension. Gastroenterol Hepatol 2017;13: 617-19.
  4. Reiberger T, Mandorfer M. Beta adrenergic blockade and decompensated cirrhosis. J Hepatol 2017;66: 849-59.
  5. Giannelli V, Lattanzi, Thalheimer U, et al. Beta-blockers in liver cirrhosis. Ann Gastroenterol 2014;27:20-26.
  6. Facciorusso A, Roy S, Livadas S, et al. Nonselective beta-blockers do not affect survival in cirrhotic patients with ascites. Digest Dis Sci 2018;63:1737-46.
  7. Njei B, McCarty TR, Garcia-Tsao G. Beta-blockers in patients with cirrhosis and ascites: type of betablocker matters. Gut 206;65:1393-4.
  8. De Franchis R. Expanding consensus in portal hypertension. Report of the Baveno VI Consensus Workshop: stratifying risk and individualizing care for portal hypertension.  J Hepatol 2015;63:743-52.  

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Mercy Hospital-St. Louis or its affiliate healthcare centers. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you

Should I continue nadolol in my patient with cirrhosis and refractory ascites?