Why was the myocardial infarction in my postop patient silent?

Myocardial infarction (MI) in postop patients is in fact usually silent (1,2) but what is less clear is how myocardial ischemia can occur without any symptoms.

Although use of analgesics and narcotics postop may dampen or mask chest pain or other symptoms associated with MI, other factors are also likely to play an important role, such as decreased sensitivity to painful stimuli, autonomic neuropathy (eg, in diabetes mellitus), and higher pain threshold among some patients (3).

Additional factors associated with silent MIs include cerebral cortical dysfunction since frontal cortical activation appears to be necessary to experience cardiac pain. Mental stress is also a frequent trigger for asymptomatic myocardial ischemia, infarction and sudden cardiac death (4).  High levels of beta-endorphin, an endogenous opiate, may also play a role (5).

Perhaps the most intriguing explanation for lack of symptoms is the observation that the levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines (interleukin-4 and -10)—which block pain transmission pathways and increase the threshold for nerve activation—seem to be increased in patients with silent myocardial ischemia (6).  Even more relevant to our postop patient is the finding that interleukin-10 production increases during and after major abdominal surgery and correlates with the amount of intraoperative blood loss (7). 

No wonder MIs in postop patients are often silent!

1. Devereaux PJ, Xavier D, Pogue J, et al. Characteristics nd short-term prognosis of perioperative myocardial infarction in patients undergoing noncardiac surgery: a cohort study. Ann Intern Med 2011;154:523-8. https://annals.org/aim/article-abstract/746934/characteristics-short-term-prognosis-perioperative-myocardial-infarction-patients-undergoing-noncardiac 
2. Badner NH, Knill RL, Brown JE, et al. Myocardial infarction after noncardiac surgery. Anesthesiology 1998;88:572-78. http://anesthesiology.pubs.asahq.org/article.aspx?articleid=1948483
3. Ahmed AH, Shankar KJ, Eftekhari H, et al. Silent myocardial ischemia:current perspectives and future directions. Exp Clin Cardiol 2007;12:189-96. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2359606/ 
4. Gullette EC, Blumenthal JA, Babyak M, et al. Effects of mental stress on myocardial ischemia during daily life. JAMA 1997;277:1521-6. https://jama.jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/articlepdf/416233/jama_277_19_029.pdf
5. Hikita H, Kurita A, Takase B, et al. Re-examination of the roles of beta-endorphin and cardiac autonomic function in exercise-induced silent myocardial ischemia. Ann Noninvasive Electrocardiol 1997;2:319-25. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1542-474X.1997.tb00195.x
6. Mazzone A, Cusa C, Mazzucchelli I, et al. Increased production of inflammatory cytokines in patients with silent myocardial ischemia. J Am Coll Cardiol 2001;38:1895-901. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11738291
7. Kato M, Honda I, Suzuki H, et al. Interleukin-10 production during and after upper abdominal surgery. J Clin Anesth 1998;10:184-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9603586 

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Why was the myocardial infarction in my postop patient silent?

How exactly do urinary tract infections (UTIs) cause delirium in my elderly patients?

 UTIs are often considered in the differential diagnosis of causes of delirium in the elderly. Though largely speculative, 2 possible pathophysiologic basis for this association are suggested:1-3

  •  Direct brain insult (eg, in the setting of sepsis/hypotension)
  • Indirect aberrant stress response, involving cytokines/inflammatory pathways,  hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal [HPA] axis and sympathetic nervous system (SNS). One or both pathways can interact with the neurotransmitter and intracellular signal transduction systems underlying delirium in the brain, which may already be impaired in the elderly due to age-related or other pathologic changes.

The indirect aberrant stress pathway suggests that not only pain and discomfort (eg from dysuria) can contribute to delirium but UTI-associated circulating cytokines may also cause delirium.  Indeed, a large study of older adults undergoing elective surgery found a significant association between delirium postoperatively (postop day 2) and serum proinflammatory cytokine levels such as IL-6. 4  

The corollary is that bacteriuria is unlikely to be associated with delirium in the absence of significant systemic inflammatory response, pain or discomfort.



1.Trzepacz P, van der Mast R. The neuropathophysiology of delirium. In Lindesay J,  Rockwood K, Macdonald A (Eds.). Delirium in old age, pp. 51–90. Oxford University Press, Oxford , 2002.

2.Flacker JM, Lipsitz LA. Neural mechanisms of delirium: current hypotheses and evolving concepts. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 1999; 54: B239–B246 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10411009

3. Maclullich AM, Ferguson KJ, Miller T, de Rooij SE, Cunningham C. Unravelling the pathophysiology of delirium: a focus on the role of aberrant stress responses. J Psychosom Res. 2008;65:229–38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18707945

4. Vasunilashom SM, Ngo L, Inouye SK, et al. Cytokines and postoperative delirium in older patients undergoing major elective surgery. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2015;70:1289-95. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4817082/pdf/glv083.pdf

Contributed by Henrietta Afari MD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA

How exactly do urinary tract infections (UTIs) cause delirium in my elderly patients?

What is the association between sepsis and jaundice in patients without biliary obstruction?

Sepsis and bacterial infection account for up to 20% of cases of jaundice in community hospitals, and may occur within a few days of onset of bacteremia or even before other clinical features of the underlying infection become apparent1.  

Although biliary obstruction is usually considered, many such patients lack extrahepatic cause for their jaundice. Gram-negative bacteria (eg, E. coli) are often the culprit with intraabdominal or urinary tract infection, pneumonia, endocarditis, and meningitis sources often cited. Hyperbilirubinemia (often 2-10 mg/dl) is commonly associated with elevated alkaline phosphatase and mild aminotransferases elevations, and usually resolves with treatment of infection1.

Although factors such as increased bilirubin load from hemolysis, hepatocellular injury, and drugs (eg, penicillins and cephalosporins) may play a role, cholestasis—likely due to cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF)α— is the predominant cause1.  Interestingly, anti-TNF-α antibodies block reduction in bile flow and bile salt excretion in laboratory animals2



  1. Chand N, Sanyal AJ. Sepsis-induced cholestasis. HEPATOLOGY 2007;45: 230-240.
  2. Whiting J, Green R, Rosenbluth A, Gollan J. Tumor necrosis factor-alpha decreases hepatocyte bile salt uptake and mediates endotoxin-induced cholestasis. HEPATOLOGY 1995;22:1273-1278.
What is the association between sepsis and jaundice in patients without biliary obstruction?

Besides malignancy, what other causes of cachexia should we usually consider in our hospitalized patients?

Although cachexia , a loss of >5% body weight over 12 months,  has been reported in about 30% of patients with cancer, many other chronic conditions  commonly encountered in our hospitalized patients may also be a culprit.  In fact, cachexia is not infrequent in CHF (20%), COPD (20%), kidney failure (40%), or rheumatoid arthritis (10%) (1,2).  We also shouldn’t overlook HIV and tuberculosis as a cause.

Cachexia is a multifactorial disease which does not fully reverse with nutritional support.  Numerous mediators have been implicated, including cytokines such as tumor-necrosis factor-α, and interleukin [IL]-1 and -6, as well as transforming growth factors such as myostatin and activin A (2). 

In patients with CHF, angiotensin II appears to be a key mediator, associated with insulin resistance, depletion of  ATP in skeletal muscles, poor appetite, reduction in insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), and an increase in glucocorticoid and IL-6 levels.  All these factors contribute to “cardiac cachexia” through muscle wasting, reduced food intake and lower muscle regeneration. 



  1. Morely JE, Thomas DR, Wilson M-M G. Cachexia: pathophysiology and clinical relevance. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83:735-43. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16600922
  2. Yoshida T, Delafontaine P. Mechanisms of cachexia in chronic disease states. Am J Med Sci 2015;35:250-256. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4587350/
Besides malignancy, what other causes of cachexia should we usually consider in our hospitalized patients?