When should surgery be considered in my hospitalized patient with divertculitis?

Severe diffuse abdominal pain, fever, tachycardia, leukocytosis or other signs of sepsis and diffuse peritonitis indicative of free perforation requires emergent surgery. Urgent surgery should be considered when your patient fails to improve (eg, abdominal pain or the inability to tolerate enteral nutrition, bowel obstruction, or infection-related ileus) despite medical therapy or percutaneous drainage. 1,2

Lower threshold for surgical intervention is also needed in transplant patients, patients on chronic corticosteroid therapy, other immunosuppressed patients and those with chronic renal failure or collagen-vascular disease because these patients have a significantly greater risk of recurrent, complicated diverticulitis requiring emergency surgery. Overall, up to 20% of patients with acute diverticulitis undergo surgery during the same hospitalization.2

For patients with recurrent uncomplicated diverticulitis, decision regarding future elective surgery should be individualized. Although older guidelines recommended surgery after 2 attacks of uncomplicated diverticulitis, more recent guidelines place less emphasis on the number of episodes and stress the importance of considering the severity of the attacks, chronic or lingering symptoms, inability to exclude carcinoma, overall medical condition of the patient, risks of surgery, and the impact of diverticulitis on the patient’s lifestyle.1,2

Of interest, a decision analysis model suggests that elective resection after a fourth episode may be as safe as earlier resection.3



  1. Young-Fadok TM. Diverticulitis. N Eng J Med 2018;397:1635-42 https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMcp1800468
  2. Feingold D, Steele SM, Lee S, et al. Practice parameters for the treatment of sigmoid diverticulitis. Dis Colon Rectum 2014;57:284-94. https://www.fascrs.org/sites/default/files/downloads/publication/practice_parameters_for_the_treatment_of_sigmoid.2.pdf
  3. Salem L, Veenstra DL, Sullivan SD, et al. The timing of elective colectomy in diverticulitis: A decision analysis. J Am Coll Surg 2004;199:904-12. https://www.journalacs.org/article/S1072-7515(04)01000-2/fulltext

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When should surgery be considered in my hospitalized patient with divertculitis?

Is it possible to have acute pancreatitis with normal serum lipase?

Yes! Although an elevated serum lipase has a negative predictive value of 94%-100% for acute pancreatitis (1), there are ample reports in the literature of patients with CT findings of pancreatitis in the presence of abdominal symptoms but with normal serum lipase and/or amylase (2,3).

A case series and review of literature of acute pancreatitis with normal lipase and amylase failed to reveal any specific risk factors for such observation (2). More specifically, the etiologies of acute pancreatitis in the reported cases have varied, including drug-induced, cholelithiasis, alcohol, hypertriglyceridemia, and postoperative causes.

But what accounts for this phenomenon? Many cases have been associated with the first bout of pancreatitis without evidence of pancreatic calcifications which makes the possibility of a “burned-out” pancreas without sufficient acinar cells to release lipase as a frequent cause unlikely. Other potential explanations for normal lipase in acute pancreatitis have included measurement of serum lipase at a very early phase of the disease before significant destruction of acinar cells has occurred (increases in 3-6 h, peaks at 24 h [4]) and more rapid renal clearance of serum lipase due to tubular dysfunction (2).

Of note, unlike amylase, lipase is totally reabsorbed by renal tubules under normal conditions (5). Thus, it’s conceivable that even a reversible tubular dysfunction may lead to increased clearance of serum lipase and potentially lower its levels.
1. Ko K, Tello LC, Salt J. Acute pancreatitis with normal amylase and lipase. The Medicine Forum. 2011;11 Article 4. https://jdc.jefferson.edu/tmf/vol11/iss1/4/
2. Singh A, Shrestha M. Acute pancreatitis with normal amylase and lipase-an ED dilemma. Am J Emerg Med 2016;940.e5-940.e7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26521195
3. Limon O, Sahin E, Kantar FU, et al. A rare entity in ED: normal lipase level in acute pancreatitis. Turk J Emerg Med 2016;16:32-34. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4882216/
4. Shah AM, Eddi R, Kothari ST, et al. Acute pancreatitis with normal serum lipase: a case series. J Pancreas (Online) 2010 July 5;11:369-72. PDF
5. Lott JA, Lu CJ. Lipase isoforms and amylase isoenzymes: assays and application in the diagnosis of acute pancreatitis. Clin Chem 1991;37:361-68. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1706232
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Is it possible to have acute pancreatitis with normal serum lipase?

Should I be concerned about the umbilical hernia in my patient with cirrhosis and ascites?

Although umbilical hernia in patients with cirrhosis and ascites is common and often “expected” (a rate of 20% during the course of their disease), it can be associated with significant risk of complications such as incarceration, ascites drainage, peritonitis, and spontaneous rupture or evisceration from necrosis of overlying skin.1,2

A 2007 retrospective study involving patients with cirrhosis and umbilical hernia reported a complication rate of 77% and related mortality of 15% among those managed conservatively (mean period of observation ~ 5 years); MELD score could not predict failure of conservative management (median 22 in complicated vs 24 in uncomplicated).3

Because the risk of death with hernia repair in urgent settings is 7x higher than for elective hernia repair in cirrhotic patients, there has been increasing interest in elective repair in patients with well-compensated cirrhosis.3 Interestingly, the reported surgical complication rates among patients with well-compensated cirrhosis appear similar to those in noncirrhotic patients.3 If the patient is expected to undergo liver transplantation in the near future, elective hernia repair can be postponed and managed concomitantly.

Bonus pearl: Did you know that spontaneous umbilical hernia rupture is also known as “Flood syndrome” (should be easy to remember!), first described by Frank B Flood, a surgical resident back in 1961? 4


  1. Marsman HA, Heisterkamp J, Halm JA, et al. Management in patients with liver cirrhosis and an umbilical hernia. Surgery 2007;142:372-5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17723889
  2. Coelho, JCU, Claus CMP, Campos ACL, et al. Umbilical hernia in patients with liver cirrhosis: a surgical challenge. World J Gastrointest Surg 2016;8:476-82. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4942747/
  3. Martens P, Laleman W. Umbilical hernia in a patient with cirrhosis. Cleveland Clin J Med 2015;82: 404-5. https://www.mdedge.com/ccjm/article/100682/hepatology/umbilical-hernia-patient-cirrhosis
  4. Nguyen ET, Tudtud-Hans LA. Flood syndrome: spontaneous umbilical hernia rupture leaking ascitic fluid-a case report. Perm J 2017;21:16-152. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5499604/ 

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Should I be concerned about the umbilical hernia in my patient with cirrhosis and ascites?

Should I consider octreotide in my patient with non-variceal upper GI bleed?

Octreotide is routinely used in the treatment of variceal bleeding due to its vasoconstrictive effects on the splanchnic vasculature.1 In non-variceal upper GI bleed (NVUGB), however, the evidence for routine use of octreotide is hard to come by with an international consensus panel recommending its use only on a case-by-case basis in patients with very active bleeding while awaiting endoscopy or surgery.2,3

These recommendations are based on the failure of several randomized controlled trials in demonstrating the superiority of octreotide in NVUGB over placebo, either alone or with ranitidine, except in a small subset of patients with actively oozing ulcers.4-6 Although a meta-analysis has suggested that octreotide may reduce the risk of continued bleeding in NVUGB,7 the validity of some of the included studies has been questioned.8

On the other hand, octreotide decreases gastric mucosal blood flow and inhibits acid and pepsin secretion, which may potentially benefit patients who are actively bleeding.9

Final fun fact: Did you know that octreotide may be effective in the treatment of chylothorax?



  1. Avgerinos A, Armonis A, Raptis S. Somatostatin and octreotide in the management of acute variceal hemorrhage. Hepatogastroenterology 1995;42:145-50. http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/7672763
  2. Barkun AN, Barrdou M, Kulpers EJ, et al. International concensus recommendations on the management of patients with nonvariceal upper gastrointestinal bleeding. Ann Intern Med 2010;152:101-113. http://annals.org/aim/article/745521/international-consensus-recommendations-management-patients-nonvariceal-upper-gastrointestinal-bleeding
  3. Barkun A, Bardou M, Marshall JK, Nonvariceal Upper GIBCCG Consensus Conference Group. Consensus recommendations for managing patients with nonvariceal upper gastrointestinal bleeding. Ann Intern Med 2003;139:843–857. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14623622
  4. Nikolopoulou VN, Thomopoulos KC, Katsakoulis EC, et al. The effect of octreotide as an adjunct treatment in active nonvariceal upper gastrointestinal bleeding. J Clin Gastroenterol 2004;38:243-7. http://journals.lww.com/jcge/Abstract/2004/03000/The_Effect_of_Octreotide_as_an_Adjunct_Treatment.9.aspx
  5. Archimandritis A, Tsirantonaki M, Tryphonos M, et al. Ranitidine versus ranitidine plus octreotide in the treatment of acute non-variceal upper gastrointestinal bleeding: a prospective randomized study. Curr Med Res Opin. 2000;16(3):178-83. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1185/0300799009117023
  6. Okan A, Simsek I, Akpinar H, et al. Somatostatin and ranitidine in the treatment of non-variceal upper gastrointestinal bleeding: a prospective, randomized, double-blind, controlled study. Hepatogastroenterology 2000;47:1325-7. http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/11100343
  7. Imperiale TF, Birgisson S. Somatostatin or octreotide compared with H2 antagonists and placebo in the management of acute nonvariceal upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage: a meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med 1997;127:1062–1071. http://annals.org/aim/article/711021/somatostatin-octreotide-compared-h-2-antagonists-placebo-management-acute-nonvariceal
  8. Palmer KR. Non-variceal upper gastrointestinal haemorrhage: guidelines. Gut. 2002;51 (Suppl 4): iv1–iv6. http://gut.bmj.com/content/51/suppl_4/iv1.short
  9. Sgouros SN, Bergele C, Viazis N, et al. Somatostatin and its analogues in peptic ulcer bleeding: facts and pathophysiological aspects. Dig Liver Dis. 2006;38:143-8. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1590865805002434


Contributed byAlice Choi, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School


Should I consider octreotide in my patient with non-variceal upper GI bleed?

Is measurement of amylase and lipase useful in patients with renal insufficiency suspected of pancreatitis?

Depends on how high the serum levels are! Although the clearance of both amylase and lipase appears to be impaired in patients with significant renal insufficiency (eg,  creatinine clearance <50ml/min), serum levels greater than 2-4 times the upper limits of normal for these enzymes are still considered suggestive of pancreatitis in these patients1-3.

Interestingly, in hemodialysis patients, elevation of lipase may also be due to the lipolytic effect of heparin during this procedure.  That’s why obtaining serum lipase levels before, not after,  hemodialysis has been recommended4

Also fascinating is that most of the elevation of serum amylase in patients with significant renal insufficiency appears to be related to the elevation of salivary, not pancreatic, isoenzyme of amylase4.

Final fun fact: Did you know that at one time the diagnosis of pancreatitis was based on the activity of serum on starch (for amylase) and olive oil (for lipase)? 5


  1. Levitt MD, Rapoport M, Cooperband SR. The renal clearance of amylase in renal insufficiency, acute pancreatitis, and macroamylasemia. Ann Intern Med 1969;71:920-25. http://annals.org/aim/article/683643/renal-clearance-amylase-renal-insufficiency-acute-pancreatitis-macroamylasemia
  2. Collen MJ, Ansher AF, Chapman AB, et al. Serum amylase in patients with renal insufficiency and renal failure. Am J Gastroenterol 1990;85:1377-80. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1699413
  3. Royce VL, Jensen DM, Corwin HL. Pancreatic enzymes in chronic renal failure. Arch Intern Med 1987;147:537-39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2435254
  4. Vaziri ND, Change D, Malekpour A, et al. Pancreatic enzymes in patients with end-stage renal disease maintained on hemodialysis. Am J Gastroenterol 1988;83:410-12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2450453
  5. Editorial. Pancreatic enzymes. N Engl J Med 1963;268:901-2. http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJM196304182681613
Is measurement of amylase and lipase useful in patients with renal insufficiency suspected of pancreatitis?

How should I interpret a positive result for serum cryoglobulins?

Cryoglobulins (CGs) are immunoglobulins that precipitate in the blood under cold conditions (<37◦ C) and redissolve upon warming1.  The term “cryoglobulinemia” is commonly used to describe patients with a systemic inflammatory syndrome that is often associated with small-to-medium vessel vasculitis due to cryoglobulin-containing immune complexes. Although some patients with cryoglobulinemia may be asymptomatic, most present with a range of diseases characterized by fatigue, arthralgia, skin rashes or necrosis, purpura, neuropathy, bowel wall ischemia and/or glomerulonephritis and kidney failure.

Wintrobe and Buell are credited for first describing cryglobulinemia in 1933 when assessing a patient who ultimately was found to have multiple myeloma2. Since then the spectrum of diseases associated with CG has expanded to also include seemingly disparate conditions such as hepatitis C, autoimmune disorders and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS).  A commonly cited classification scheme for CG is shown (Table)3.   It should be emphasized that some CGs may not fit neatly into this scheme.

In our patient, the positive CG serum test should be interpreted in the clinical context in which it was obtained while searching for risk factors as well as signs and symptoms that may be associated with cryoglobulinemia.


Table. Classification of cryoglobulinemia

Category Description Examples
Type I Isolated monoclonal immunoglobulin, either IgM or IgG (less commonly IgA or free immunoglobulin light chains Multiple myeloma, Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia, monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS)
Type II Mixture of monoclonal IgM and polyclonal IgG Hepatitis C, HIV, other viral infections
Type III Polyclonal mixture IgM and IgG Autoimmune disorders, hepatitis C


  1. Takada S, Shimizu T, Hadano Y, et al. Cryoglobulinemia (review). Mol Med Rep 2012;6:3-8
  2. Wintrobe MM, Buell MV. Hyperproteinemia associated with multiple myeloma. Bull Johns Hopkins Hosp 52: 156-165, 1933
  3. Brouet JC, Clauvel JP, Danon F, et al. Biological and clinical significance of cryoglobulins. Am J Med 1974; 57:775-88.


Contributed by Kirstin Scott, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

How should I interpret a positive result for serum cryoglobulins?

My 35 year old patient with chronic alcoholism blames benign prostatic hypertrophy for his difficulty voiding. Could his bladder dysfunction be related to his alcoholism?

Several case reports in the literature have stressed the association of bladder dysfunction (BD) with chronic alcohol abuse1,2.  Although some cases may be associated with concurrent thiamine deficiency (with its attendant neuropathy), other cases of BD do not appear to be. The mechanism of BD in this setting may be related to the toxic effect of alcohol on peripheral, autonomic and/or central nervous systems2,3.

Binge drinking may also be associated with urinary retention, with spontaneous atraumatic urinary bladder rupture having been reported on several occasions4. Lastly, alcohol withdrawal alone may precipitate urinary retention5.  

Unfortunately, many cases of abdominal pain due to urinary retention in the setting of alcohol abuse or withdrawal may be mistakenly attributed to ascites or other causes5.  High index of suspicion for BD is essential to minimize its complications.

In our patient, given the low prevalence of benign prostatic hypertrophy in men less than 40 years of age, urinary retention due to alcohol-related BD is more likely.



  1. Yuan R, Carcciolo VJ, Kulaga M. Chronic abdominal distension secondary to urinary retention in a patient with alcoholism. JAMA 2002;287;318-19.
  2. Sheremata WA, Sherwin I. Alcoholic myelopathy with spastic urinary bladder. Dis Nerv Syst 1972;33:136-139.
  3. Mellion M, Gilchrist JM, De La Monte S. Alcohol-related peripheral neuropathy: nutritional, toxic or both? Muscle Nerve 2011;43:309-16.
  4. Muneer M, Abdelrahman H, El-Menyar A, et al. Spontaneous atraumatic urinary bladder rupture secondary to alcohol intoxication: a case report and review of literature. Am J Case Rep 2015;16:778-81.
  5. Iga J-I, Taniguchi T, Ohmori T. Acute abdominal distension secondary to urinary retention in a patient after alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol Alcoholism 2005;40:86-87.
My 35 year old patient with chronic alcoholism blames benign prostatic hypertrophy for his difficulty voiding. Could his bladder dysfunction be related to his alcoholism?

“In my patient with abdominal pain, what physical exam finding can help differentiate abdominal wall from intra-abdominal sources of pain?”

Carnett’s sign (described by British surgeon J.B. Carnett in 1926) is a physical exam finding that helps differentiate abdominal wall from intra-abdominal sources of pain.

The test is considered positive when, upon locating the tender abdominal spot, the patient’s pain worsens on tensing of the abdominal wall muscles by lifting the head and shoulders from the bed or by raising both legs with straight knees. Conversely, if the pain decreases with this maneuver, an intra-abdominal source is more likely1,2.

A positive Carnett’s sign should broaden the differential of abdominal pain to include: hernias, irritation of intercostal nerve roots, rectus sheath hematomas, myofascial pain, anterior cutaneous nerve entrapment (latter also discussed in another pearl).

In the appropriate clinical setting,  local corticosteroids or anesthetic injections, or the application of hot or cold packs may be therapeutic. 2,3


  1. Carnett JB. Intercostal neuralgia as a cause of abdominal pain and tenderness. J Surg Gynecol Obstet 1926; 42:625-632.
  2. Bundrick JB, Litin SC. Clinical pearls in general internal medicine.  Mayo Clin Proceedings 2011;86: 70–74.  https://mayoclinic.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/clinical-pearls-in-general-internal-medicine-2
  3. Suleiman S , Johnston DE.  The abdominal wall: an overlooked source of pain. Am Fam Physician 2001; 64: 431-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11515832

Contributed by Brad Lander MD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA.

“In my patient with abdominal pain, what physical exam finding can help differentiate abdominal wall from intra-abdominal sources of pain?”

Are GI symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea common in patients with influenza?

Typically, GI symptoms are more prominent in children with influenza than adults but during the H1N1 epidemic in 2009 (which has subsequently become endemic), up to 26% of hospitalized adults with H1N1 infection had abdominal pain or vomiting and up to 25% had diarrhea (1).  In fact, H1N1 virus has been isolated from stool of adult hospitalized patients (2).

Interestingly, the mechanism involved in influenza-mediated intestinal injury may have less to do with direct invasion of the intestinal mucosa by the virus and more to do with immune mediated changes  related to alterations in the intestinal microbiota induced by influenza virus infection itself (3)!  Who would have thought?



  1. Writing Committee of the WHO Consultation on Clinical Aspects of Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza. Clinical aspects of pandemic 2009 influenza A (H1N1) virus infection. N Engl J Med 2010;362:1708-19.
  2. Yoo SJ, Moon SJ, Kuak E-Y, et al. Frequent detection of pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus in stools of hospitalized patients. J Clin Microbiol 2010; 48:2314-2315.
  3. Wang J, Li F, Wei H, et al. Respiratory influenza virus infection induces intestinal immune injury via microbiota mediated Th17 cell-dependent inflammation. J Exp Med 2014;211:2397-2410.
Are GI symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea common in patients with influenza?

What’s ACNES (anterior cutaneous nerve entrapment syndrome)?

 As the name implies, this is an abdominal pain syndrome thought to be due to the entrapment of cutaneous branches of an intercostal nerve at the level of the rectus abdominis muscle (1,2).   It may be acute or chronic.

Up to a third of patients with chronic abdominal pain, the source of pain appears to be the abdominal wall, not the viscera (1,3).  Unfortunately, a third of patients experience pain for >1 year and about 10% for > 5 years before diagnosis of ACNES is made. In about one-half of cases, ACNES begins spontaneously, with the remainder developing after abdominal surgery or pregnancy, or is associated with “sports”, “job “ or “unusual activity” (4).   Females outnumber males by a 4:1 margin with an average age of 37  y (2).  Carnett’s sign on physical exam may be a clue (2,5) .

Identification of abdominal wall trigger points and their infiltration with lidocaine may relieve the pain instantaneously and can serve as a diagnostic test.  Surgical neurectomy may be effective in those with only temporary or partial response to repeated lidocaine injections (1).



1. Boelens OBA, Scheltinga MR, Houterman S, et al. Randomized clinical trial of trigger point infiltration with lidocaine to diagnose anterior cutaneous nerve entrapment syndrome. Br J Surg 2013;100:217-221. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23180371

2. van Assen T, Brouns JAGM, Scheltinga MR, et al. Incidence of abdominal pain due to anterior cutaneous nerve entrapment syndrome in an emergency department. Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med 2015;23:19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4327965  

3. van Assen T, de Jager-Kievit JW, Scheltinga MR, et al. Chronic abdominal wall pain misdiagnosed as functional abdominal pain. J Am Board Fam Med 2013;26:738-44. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24204070

4. Boelens OB, Scheltinga MR, Houterman S, et al. Management of anterior cutaneous nerve entrapment syndrome in a cohort of 139 patients. Management of anterior cutaneous nerve entrapment syndrome in a cohort of 129 patients. Ann Surg 2011;254:1054-1058.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21881494

5. Pearls4Peers.  https://pearls4peers.com/2016/12/20/in-my-patient-with-abdominal-pain-what-physical-exam-finding-can-help-differentiate-abdominal-wall-from-intra-abdominal-sources-of-pain


What’s ACNES (anterior cutaneous nerve entrapment syndrome)?