Should I consider acute acalculous cholecystitis in my elderly ambulatory patient admitted with right upper quadrant pain?

Short answer: Yes! Although we usually associate acute acalculous cholecystitis (AAC) with critically ill patients (eg, with sepsis, trauma, shock, major burns) in ICUs, AAC is not as rare as we might think in ambulatory patients. In fact, a 7 year study of AAC involving multiple centers reported that AAC among outpatients was increasing in prevalence and accounted for 77% of all cases (1)!

Although the pathophysiology of ACC is not fully understood, bile stasis and ischemia of the gallbladder either due to microvascular or macrovascular pathology have been implicated as potential causes (2). One study found that 72% of outpatients who developed ACC had atherosclerotic disease associated with hypertension, coronary, peripheral or cerebral vascular disease, diabetes or congestive heart failure (1). Interestingly, in contrast to calculous cholecystitis, “multiple arterial occlusions” have been observed on pathological examination of the gallbladder in at least some patients with ACC and accordingly a name change to “acute ischemic cholecystitis” has been proposed (3).

AAC can also complicate acute mesenteric ischemia and may herald critical ischemia and mesenteric infarction (3). The fact that cystic artery is a terminal branch artery probably doesn’t help and leaves the gallbladder more vulnerable to ischemia when arterial blood flow is compromised irrespective of the cause (4).

Of course, besides vascular ischemia there are numerous other causes of ACC, including infectious (eg, viral hepatitis, cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, Salmonella, brucellosis, malaria, Rickettsia and enteroviruses), as well as many non-infectious causes such as vasculitides and, more recently, check-point inhibitor toxicity (1,5-8).

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that in contrast to cholecystitis associated with gallstones (where females and 4th and 5th decade age groups predominate), ACC in ambulatory patients is generally more common among males and older age groups (mean age 65 y) (1)?


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1. Savoca PE, Longo WE, Zucker KA, et al. The increasing prevalence of acalculous cholecystitis in outpatients: Result of a 7-year study. Ann Surg 1990;211: 433-37.
2. Huffman JL, Schenker S. Acute acalculous cholecystitis: A review. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2010;8:15-22.
3. Hakala T, Nuutinene PJO, Ruokonen ET, et al. Microangiopathy in acute acalculous cholecystitis Br J Surg 1997;84:1249-52.
4. Melo R, Pedro LM, Silvestre L, et al. Acute acalculous cholecystitis as a rare manifestation of chronic mesenteric ischemia. A case report. Int J Surg Case Rep 2016;25:207-11.
5. Aguilera-Alonso D, Median EVL, Del Rosal T, et al. Acalculous cholecystitis in a pediatric patient with Plasmodium falciparum infection: A case report and literature review. Ped Infect Dis J 2018;37: e43-e45.  
6. Kaya S, Eskazan AE, Ay N, et al. Acute acalculous cholecystitis due to viral hepatitis A. Case Rep Infect Dis 2013;Article ID 407182.
7. Simoes AS, Marinhas A, Coelho P, et al. Acalculous acute cholecystitis during the course of an enteroviral infection. BMJ Case Rep 2013;12.
8. Abu-Sbeih H, Tran CN, Ge PS, et al. Case series of cancer patients who developed cholecystitis related to immune checkpoint inhibitor treatment. J ImmunoTherapy of Cancer 2019;7:118.



Should I consider acute acalculous cholecystitis in my elderly ambulatory patient admitted with right upper quadrant pain?

My postop patient now has fever with atelectasis on her chest X-ray one day after surgery. Does atelectasis cause fever?

Although fever and atelectasis often coexist during the early postop period, there is no evidence that atelectasis causes fever.

A 2011 systematic analysis of 8 published studies found that all but 1 study failed to find a significant association between postop fever and atelectasis.A 1988 study reported a significant association between postop fever during the first 48 h and atelectasis on day 4 postop, but not each postop day.2  Even in this study, however, fever as a predictor of atelectasis performed poorly with a sensitivity of 26%, specificity of 75% and accuracy of 43%.

In another study involving postop cardiac surgery patients, despite a fall in the incidence of fever from day 0 to day 2, the incidence of atelectasis based on serial chest X-rays actually  increased. 3

Experimental studies in dogs and cats in the 1960s also support the lack of a causative relationship between atelectasis and fever. 4,5 Although fever was observed within 12 hrs of placement of cotton plugs in the left main bronchus of these animals, almost all animals also developed pneumonia distal to the plug.  Antibiotic treatment was associated with resolution of fever but not atelectasis.

So if it’s not atelectasis, what’s the explanation for early postop fever? The great majority of postop fevers during the first 4 days postop are unlikely to be related to infections. Instead, a more plausible explanation is the inflammatory response to the tissue injury as a result of the surgery itself causing release of cytokines (eg, interleukin-1 and -6 and tumor necrosis factor) associated with fever. 6


  1. Mavros MN, Velmahos GC, Falagas ME. Atelectasis as a cause of postoperative fever. Where is the clinical evidence? CHEST 2011;140:418-24.
  2. Roberts J, Barnes W, Pennock M, et al. Diagnostic accuracy of fever as a measure of postoperative pulmonary complications. Heart Lung 1988;17:166-70.
  3. Engoren M. Lack of association between atelectasis and fever. CHEST 1995;107:81-84.
  4. Lansing AM, Jamieson WG. Mechanisms of fever in pulmonary atelectasis. Arch Surg 1963;87:168-174.
  5. Jamieson WG, Lansing AM. Bacteriological studies in pulmonary atelectasis. Arch Surg 1963;87:1062-66.
  6. Narayan M, Medinilla SP. Fever in the postoperative patient. Emerg Med Clin Nam 2013;31:1045-58. 

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My postop patient now has fever with atelectasis on her chest X-ray one day after surgery. Does atelectasis cause fever?