My patient with jaundice complains of abdominal fullness. How useful is the history or physical exam when assessing for ascites?

Even in the age of ultrasound, history and physical exam can be useful in assessing for ascites.

History is a good place to start. Of all the questions we often ask when we suspect ascites (eg, increasing abdominal girth, weight gain and ankle swelling), lack of report of ankle swelling is probably the most helpful in excluding ascites (negative likelihood ratio [LR-], 0.1 in a study involving men), followed by no increase in abdominal girth (LR-, 0.17). Conversely, patient reported ankle swelling or increasing abdominal girth may be helpful in suspecting ascites (LR+ 4.12 and 2.8, respectively). 1

Of the various physical signs and maneuvers, absence of peripheral edema is highly associated with the lack of ascites, followed by lack of shifting dullness or fluid wave (LR-, 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, respectively). The presence of a fluid wave may be the most helpful in suspecting ascites, followed by peripheral edema, and shifting dullness (LR+ 6.0, 3.8, 2.7, respectively). 1  Relatively high sensitivities have been reported for shifting dullness (83-88%), while relatively high specificities have been reported for the fluid wave test (82-90%).2,3 An elevated INR may also improve the positive predictive value of shifting dullness and fluid waves.4

So if you don’t get a history of ankle edema and find no evidence of peripheral edema or shifting dullness on exam, the likelihood of ascites is pretty low. On the other hand, if you find a positive fluid wave, you can be pretty sure that the patient has ascites.

Of course, the actual likelihood of detecting ascites also depends on several other factors, including your pre-test probability and the volume of the ascites in the abdominal cavity, with at least ~500 ml of ascites necessary before it can be detected on exam (vs ~100 ml for ultrasound). 2,5

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References

  1. Williams JW, Simetl DL. Does this patient have ascites? How to divine fluid in the abdomen. JAMA 1992;267: 2645-48. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/397285
  2. Cattau EL, Benjamin SB, Knuff TE, et al The accuracy of the physical examination in the diagnosis of suspected ascites. JAMA 1982;247:1164-66. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7057606
  3. Cummings S, Papadakis M, Melnick J, et al. The predictive value of physical examinations for ascites. West J Med 1985;142:633-36. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3892916
  4. Fitzgerald FT. Physical diagnosis versus modern technology. A review. West J Med 1990;152:377-82. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2190412
  5. CDC. Assessment for ascites. https://www.cdc.gov/dengue/training/cme/ccm/Assess%20for%20Ascites_F.pdf. Accessed November 13, 2019.
My patient with jaundice complains of abdominal fullness. How useful is the history or physical exam when assessing for ascites?

My patient with peripheral neuropathy was just diagnosed with monoclonal gammopathy of unclear significance (MGUS). Can these two conditions be related?

The presence of MGUS in patients with peripheral neuropathy (PN) may be either coincidental or causal. Younger age group (<50 y) and the presence of IgM MGUS increase the likelihood of a causal relationship between MGUS and peripheral neuropathy. 1

The likelihood of a causal relationship is higher in the younger age group because of the very low prevalence of M proteins (less than 1.5%) in this population making coincidental presence of MGUS and PN much less likely. In contrast, this relationship may just be coincidental in older patients because of higher baseline prevalence of MGUS (7% in those over 70 y old). 1  

Similarly, a causal relationship between MGUS and PN may be more likely when the M protein is IgM (vs IgG or IgA). In a study of patients with MGUS and peripheral neuropathy,  31% of patients with IgM MGUS had neuropathy vs 14% for IgA and 6% for IgG MGUS. In fact, among patients with PN without an obvious cause, the prevalence of an M protein may be as high as 10%.2  Whether the relationship between non-IgM MGUS and PN is causal remains unclear.3

Although the exact mechanism of MGUS-related PN is not known, pathologic studies in Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia and multiple myeloma have demonstrated demyelination and widened myelin lamellae associated with monoclonal IgM deposits.1

But before you implicate MGUS as the cause of PN, make sure to exclude common causes of PN, such as diabetes mellitus, alcoholism and potential drugs.

 

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References

  1. Chaudhry HM, Mauermann ML, Rajkumar SV. Monoclonal gammopathy—associated peripheral neuropathy: diagnosis and management. Mayo Clin Proc 2017; 92:838-50. https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30118-0/pdf
  2. Kelly JJ Jr, Kyle RA, O’Brien PC, et al. Prevalence of monoclonal protein in peripheral neuropathy. Neurology 1981;31:1480-83. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6273767
  3. Nobile-Orazio E, Barbien L, Baldini L, et al. Peripheral neuropathy in monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance: prevalence and immunopathogenetic studies. Acta neurol Scand 1992;85:383-90. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0404.1992.tb06033.x
My patient with peripheral neuropathy was just diagnosed with monoclonal gammopathy of unclear significance (MGUS). Can these two conditions be related?

How can I distinguish serotonin syndrome from neuroleptic malignant syndrome in my patient with fever and mental status changes?

Although there is often an overlap between the clinical presentation of serotonin syndrome (SS) and neuromuscular malignant syndrome (NMS), start out with the physical exam. The presence of hyperreflexia, tremors, clonus, hyperactive bowel sounds, and dilated pupils should make you think of SS, whereas hyporeflexia, “lead-pipe” rigidity in all muscle groups, normal pupils, and normal or decreased bowels sounds suggest NMS in the proper context.1-3 The most sensitive and specific sign of SS is clonus.1

Aside from physical exam findings, symptom onset in relation to the implicated drug may also be important. Onset of symptoms within 12-24 h of the initiation or change of an implicated drug suggests SS, whereas a more delayed onset (often 1-3 days) is more supportive of NMS.1-3  SS also tends to resolve within a few days after discontinuation of the offending agent, while NMS usually takes 9-14 days to resolve. 1-3 Although both SS and NMS can be associated with leukocytosis, elevated CK and low serum iron levels are more common in NMS.2

SS is caused by excess serotonin due to a variety of mechanisms—therefore medications— including inhibition of serotonin uptake ( eg, serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants, metoclopramide, ondansetron), inhibition of serotonin metabolism (seen with monoamine oxidase inhibitors , including linezolid, methylene blue), increased serotonin release (eg stimulants, including amphetamines, cocaine), and activation of serotonin receptors (eg, lithium), among others. 2

As for medications that can cause NMS, look for neuroleptic agents (eg, haloperidol, olanzapine, quetiapine, risperidone), as well as antiemeics, such as metoclopramide and promethazine.2

 

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that several supplements/herbal products have been associated with serotonin syndrome, including L-tryptophan, St. John’s wort and ginseng?1

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References

  1. Bienvenu OJ, Neufeld K, Needham DM. Treatment of four psychiatric emergencies in the intensive care unit. Crit Care Med 2012;40: 2662-70. https://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00003246-201209000-00017
  2. Turner AAH, Kim JJ, McCarron RM, et al. Differentiating serotonin syndrome and neuroleptic malignant syndrome. Current Psychiatry 2019;18: 36. https://www.mdedge.com/psychiatry/article/193418/schizophrenia-other-psychotic-disorders/differentiating-serotonin-syndrome
  3. Dosi R, Ambaliya A, Joshi H, et al. Serotonin syndrome versus neuroleptic malignant syndrome: a challenging clinical quandary. BMJ Case Rep 2014. Doi:10.1136/bcr-2014-204154. https://casereports.bmj.com/content/2014/bcr-2014-204154

 

How can I distinguish serotonin syndrome from neuroleptic malignant syndrome in my patient with fever and mental status changes?

Is there any evidence that routinely wearing gowns and gloves upon entry into the rooms of patients on contact precautions for MRSA or VRE really works?

Although routine gowning and gloving in the care of hospitalized patients with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE)—also known as contact precautions (CP)— is considered a standard of care (1), the evidence supporting its effectiveness in preventing endemic hospital-associated multidrug-resistant organism (MDROs) infections is not robust and is often conflicting. In fact, this practice is increasingly being questioned (including by some hospital epidemiologists) as means of preventing endemic transmission of MDROs in hospitals (1-7).
Critics often point out that studies supporting the use of CP in MDROs are observational, involving only outbreak situations where they were instituted as part of a bundled approach (eg, improved hand hygiene), making it difficult to determine its relative contribution to infection prevention (2,6).
In fact, recent cluster-randomized trials have largely failed to demonstrate clear benefit of CP over usual care for the prevention of acquiring MRSA or VRE in hospitalized patients (2,4). Furthermore, a meta-analysis of studies in which CP were eliminated failed to find an increase in the subsequent rates of transmission of MRSA, VRE, or other MDROs (2,7).
Based on these and other studies, some have suggested that in the presence of other infection prevention measures (eg, hand hygiene monitoring), CP be implemented only in select circumstances such as open or draining wounds, severe diarrhea or outbreak situations (3).

 

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the Society of Healthcare Epidemiologists of America (SHEA), however, continue to recommend implementation of CP in the care of patients with MDROs.  

 

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References
1. Maragakis LL, Jernigan JA. Things we do for good reasons: contact precautions for multidrug-resistant organisms, including MRSA and VRE. J Hosp Med 2019;14:194-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30811332
2. Young K, Doernberg SB, Snedcor RF, et al. Things we do for no reason:contact precautions for MRSA and VRE. J Hosp Med 2019;14:178-80. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30811326
3. Bearman G, Abbas S, Masroor N, et al. Impact of discontinuing contact precautions for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomyin-resistant Enerococcus: an interrupted time series analysis. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2018;39: 676-82. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/infection-control-and-hospital-epidemiology/article/impact-of-discontinuing-contact-precautions-for-methicillinresistant-staphylococcus-aureus-and-vancomycinresistant-enterococcus-an-interrupted-time-series-analysis/869CD5E44B339770AC771BC06049B98F
4. Harris AD, Pineles L, Belton B, et al. Universal glove and gown use and acquisition of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the ICU. A randomized trial. JAMA 2013;310:1571-80. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24097234
5. Morgan DJ, Murthy R, Munoz-Price LS, et al. Reconsidering contact precautions for endemic methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2015;36:1163-72. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/infection-control-and-hospital-epidemiology/article/reconsidering-contact-precautions-for-endemic-methicillinresistant-staphylococcus-aureus-and-vancomycinresistant-enterococcus/CCB41BF48CEC2185CC4D69AF3730584C
6. Morgan DJ, Wenzel RP, Bearman G. Contact precautions for endemic MRSA and VRE. Time to retire legal mandates. JAMA 2017;318:329-30. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2635333
7. Marra AR, Edmond MB, Schweizer ML, et al. Discontinuing contact precautions for multidrug-resistant organisms: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Am J Infect Control 208;46:333-340. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29031432

Is there any evidence that routinely wearing gowns and gloves upon entry into the rooms of patients on contact precautions for MRSA or VRE really works?