Can I rule out primary adrenal insufficiency by obtaining a single morning serum cortisol level in my hospitalized patient with unexplained hyponatremia?

Primary adrenal insufficiency (PAI) can be confidently ruled out when the morning (eg, 6 AM) serum cortisol level is greater than 17 ug/dl. Lower cut-off values are associated with lower probability of excluding PAI: > 10 ug/dl, 62%-67% and ≥5 ug/dl, 36%. 1,2 Conversely, PAI is highly likely when the morning serum cortisol level is less than 3 ug/dl. 3

Since many patients may have serum cortisol levels between 3 ug/dl and 17 ug/dl (ie, in the “indeterminate” range), confirmatory testing commonly performed through cosyntropin stimulation test (CST) is often necessary.

Although the standard CST involves measuring serum cortisol levels at baseline, 30 min, and 60 min with peak cortisol level <18 ug/dl indicative of PAI, several studies have reported that a single post-CST cortisol level obtained at 60 min may also be diagnostic. 3

 

References

  1. Erturk E, Jaffe CA, Barkan AL. Evaluation of the integrity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis by insulin hypoglycemia test. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 83;2350-54. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9661607
  2. Bornstein SR, Allolio B, Arlt W, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of primary adrenal insufficiency: An Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2016;101:364-89. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/101/2/364/2810222
  3. Odom DC, Gronowski AM, Odom E, et al. A single, post-ACTH cortisol measurement to screen for adrenal insufficiency in the hospitalized patient. J Hosp Med 2018;13: E1-E5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29444197
Can I rule out primary adrenal insufficiency by obtaining a single morning serum cortisol level in my hospitalized patient with unexplained hyponatremia?

Should I order a blood transfusion based on the hemoglobin (Hgb) or the hematocrit (Hct)?

Despite the frequent interchangeability of Hgb (g/dL) and Hct (%) by a ratio of ~1:3, directly-measured blood Hgb levels may be preferred for assessing the need for blood transfusion for at least 3 reasons:

First, in contrast to the widely-used automated measurements of Hct, Hgb is not affected by conditions that affect the size of the RBCs or the mean corpuscular Hgb concentration (MCHC). This is because the Hct is not a direct measure of Hgb; rather it’s the proportion of blood occupied by RBCs which, in automated systems, is derived by multiplying the number of RBCs by the mean corpuscular volume (MCV).1-3

This may not be a significant issue when MCHC is normal, but when MCHC is abnormal, HCT may not accurately reflect the blood Hgb concentration. For example, in patients with hypochromic iron deficiency anemia with RBCs containing less hemoglobin (ie, low MCHC), the Hct may overestimate blood Hgb levels. Conversely in hereditary spherocytosis with its attendant low RBC volume and high MCHC, the Hct may underestimate Hgb levels.

Second, Hct results may also be more subject to technical factors in the lab. For example, blood at room temperature between 6-24 h may be associated with RBC swelling and increased Hct without any change in its Hgb concentration.4

Finally, national and international guidelines on blood transfusion generally target Hgb, not Hct results.5-7

For a related pearl, go to https://pearls4peers.com/2016/11/01/should-i-use-a-hemoglobin-level-of-7-or-8-gdl-as-a-threshold-for-blood-transfusion-in-my-hospitalized-patient.

 

References

  1. Tefferi A, Hanson CA, Inwards DJ. How to interpret and pursue an abnormal complete blood cell count in adults. Mayo Clin Proc 2005;80:923-36. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16007898
  2. Macdougall IC, Ritz E. The Normal Haematocrit Trial in dialysis patients with cardiac disease: are we any the less confused about target hemoglobin? Nephrol Dial Transplant 1998;13:3030-33. https://academic.oup.com/ndt/article-pdf/13/12/3030/9907456/3030.pdf
  3. Kelleher BP, Wall C, O’Broin SD. Haemoglobin, not haematocrit, should be the preferred parameter. Nephrol Dial Transplant 2001;16:1085-87. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11328933
  4. Hayuanta HH. Can hemoglobin-hematocrit relationship be used to assess hydration status? CDK-237/vol 43 no.2, th. 2016 http://www.kalbemed.com/Portals/6/20_237Opini-Can%20Hemoglobin-Hematocrit%20Relationship%20Be%20Used%20to%20Assess%20Hydration%20Status.pdf
  5. Blood transfusion. NICE guideline, November, 2015. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng24/chapter/Recommendations#fresh-frozen-plasma-2 uk
  6. National Blood Authority: Australia. Patient blood management, November 2016. https://www.blood.gov.au/system/files/documents/nba-patient-blood-management-resource-guide-nov_2016_v3_sm_web_file.pdf
  7. Carson JL, Guyatt G, Heddle NM, et al. Clinical practice guidelines from the AAABB: red blood cell transfusion thresholds and storage. JAMA 2016; 316:2025-2035. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27732721

 

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Should I order a blood transfusion based on the hemoglobin (Hgb) or the hematocrit (Hct)?

How should I interpret the growth of “normal respiratory flora” from sputum of my patient with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP)?

Since the primary reason for obtaining a sputum culture in a patient with pneumonia is to sample the lower respiratory tract, you should first verify that the sputum was “adequate” by reviewing the gram stain. Absence of neutrophils (unless the patient is neutropenic) with or without epithelial cells on gram stain of sputum suggests that it may not be an adequate sample (ie, likely saliva)1, and therefore growth of normal respiratory flora (NRF) should not be surprising in this setting.  

Other potential explanations for NRF on sputum culture in patients with CAP include:2-5

  • Delay in sputum processing with possible overgrowth of oropharyngeal flora.
  • Pneumonia caused by pathogens that do not grow on standard sputum culture media (eg, atypical organisms, viruses, anaerobes).
  • Pneumonia caused by potential pathogens such as as Streptococcus mitis and Streptococcus anginosus group that may be part of the NRF.
  • Initiation of antibiotics prior to cultures (eg, in pneumococcal pneumonia).

Of note, since 2010, several studies have shown that over 50% of patients with CAP do not have an identifiable cause.3 So, growing NRF from sputum of patients with CAP appears to be common.

References

  1. Wong LK, Barry AL, Horgan SM. Comparison of six different criteria for judging the acceptability of sputum specimens. J Clin Microbiol 1982;16:627-631. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7153311
  2. Donowitz GR. Acute pneumonia. In Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases (2010). Churchill Livingstone, pp 891-916.
  3. Musher DM, Abers MS, Bartlett JG. Evolving understanding of the causes of pneumonia in adults, with special attention to the role of pneumococcus. Clin Infect Dis 2017;65: 1736-44. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29028977
  4. Abers MS, Musher DM. The yield of sputum culture in bacteremic pneumococcal pneumonia after initiation of antibiotics. Clin Infect Dis 2014; 58:1782. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24604901
  5. Bartlett JG, Gorbach SL, Finegold SM. The bacteriology of aspiration pneumonia. Bartlett JG, Gorbach SL, Finegold SM. Am J Med 1974;56:202-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4812076
How should I interpret the growth of “normal respiratory flora” from sputum of my patient with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP)?

My patient with pyelonephritis has positive blood cultures for E. coli? Should I order repeat blood cultures to make sure the bacteremia is clearing?

Although a common practice, follow-up blood cultures (FUBCs) may not be necessary in otherwise clinically stable or improving patients with aerobic gram-negative bacteremia. This is probably due to the often-transient nature of gram-negative bloodstream infections  and less propensity of these organisms to cause intravascular infections (eg, endocarditis) compared to gram-positives. 1

A 2017 study addressing the value of FUBCs in gram-negative bacteremia found that repeat positive blood cultures were uncommon with positive results not associated with mortality or higher ICU admissions. 1 Specifically, 17 FUBCs had to be drawn to yield 1 positive result.  Although the numbers of positive FUBCs were too low for in-depth analysis, it was concluded that FUBCs added little value in the management of gram-negative bacteremias.

In contrast, FUBCs are recommended in the following situations: 1-3

  • Staphylocccus aureus bacteremia given the propensity of this organism to cause intravascular (eg, endocarditis) and metastatic infections.
  • Presumed or documented endocarditis or intravascular device infections (eg, intravenous catheters and pacemakers) to document timely clearance of bacteremia
  • Infections involving organisms that may be difficult to clear such as fungemia or multi-drug resistant pathogens.

As with many things in medicine, clinical context is important before ordering tests and blood cultures are no different. The urge to order FUBCs should also be balanced with the possibility of having to deal with  contaminants. 

References

  1. Canzoneri CN, Akhavan BJ, Tosur Z et al. Follow-up blood cultures in gram-negative bacteremia: Are they needed? Clin Infect Dis 2017;65:1776-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29020307
  2. Tabriz MS, Riederer K, Baran J, et al. Repeating blood cultures during hospital stay: Practice pattern at a teaching hospital and a proposal for guidelines. Clin Microbiol Infect 2004;10:624-27. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1469-0691.2004.00893.x
  3. Mylotte JM, Tayara A. Blood cultures: Clinical aspects and controversies. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis 200;19:157-63. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10795587

 

 

My patient with pyelonephritis has positive blood cultures for E. coli? Should I order repeat blood cultures to make sure the bacteremia is clearing?

My 35 year old patient with Crohn’s disease has peripheral neuropathy but no anemia or macrocytosis. Could he still have vitamin B-12 deficiency?

Absolutely! A significant number of patients with B-12 deficiency are neither anemic nor have macrocytosis but may still have related neurological symptoms.

A large study involving a nationally representative sample of older U.S. adults (aged >50 y) sponsored by the CDC reported a prevalence of B-12 deficiency without anemia or without macrocytosis of about 4% each . 1 Interestingly, in this study,  there was no evidence that mandatory folic acid fortification of certain foods was associated with lower prevalence of B-12 deficiency without anemia or macrocytosis.

In another study, the proportion of subjects with low serum B-12 but without macrocytosis was 70% or higher, irrespective of pre- or post-fortification period.2 Interestingly, in the age group <65 y, the post-fortification was associated with significantly higher proportion of patients without macrocytosis (85% vs. 45% in the prefortification period) in this study.

Younger age groups seem to also be overrepresented among patients with B-12 deficiency but no anemia, with a prevalence of 50% in <60 y age group with B-12 deficiency compared to 38% and 31% among older age groups (60-74 y and >74 y, respectively).3

So, keep B-12 deficiency in mind in the presence of compatible neurological symptoms even in the absence anemia or macrocytosis!

 

References

  1. Qi YP, Do AN, Hamner HC, et al. The prevalence of low serum vitamin B-12 status in the absence of anemia or macrocytosis did not increase among older U.S. adults after mandatory folic acid fortification. J Nutr 2014;144:170-76. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/144/2/170.abstract
  2. Wyckoff KF, Ganji V. Proportion of individuals with low serum vitamin B-12 concentrations without macrocytosis is higher in the post-folic acid fortification period than in the pre-folic acid fortification period. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;86:1187-92. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17921401
  3. Mills JL, Von Kohorn I, Conley MR, et al. Low vitamin B-12 concentrations in patients without anemia: the effect of folic acid fortification of grain. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;77:1474-7. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/77/6/1474.full.pdf+html
My 35 year old patient with Crohn’s disease has peripheral neuropathy but no anemia or macrocytosis. Could he still have vitamin B-12 deficiency?

What does an “indeterminate” result in QuantiFERON Gold in-Tube test for latent tuberculosis really mean?

Anindeterminate” QuantiFeron Gold in-Tube (QFT-IT) simply means the result can’t be interpreted. It does NOT mean “intermediate” or “borderline positive”!

Although there are several reasons for an indeterminate QFT-IT, a common explanation is an immunocompromised state involving inadequate T-cell response (eg, corticosteroids, HIV, cancer). Improper storage of tubes and specimen handling, baseline elevated interferon (IFN)-ɣ due to heterophile antibodies, recovery phase of an infection or vaccination may also be associated with indeterminate QFT-IT results. 1,2 For these reasons, the test should be repeated for confirmation.

It all makes more sense if we understand the basis for the test. QFT-IT involves blood obtained in 3 separate test tubes:

  • Tube 1: Contains only the patient’s blood with nothing added (NIL) (“Negative control”)
  • Tube 2: Contains non-specific mitogens that stimulate patient’s T-cells (“Positive control”)
  • Tube 3: Contains specific TB antigens

Since QFT-IT is an IFN- ɣ release assay, IFN- ɣ is measured in each tube after 16-24 h incubation. A negative QFT-IT is when there is not much difference between IFN- ɣ levels in negative control and TB tubes (“TB-[minus]NIL”) AND the positive control works (“MITOGEN-[minus]NIL” is elevated).

You can now see why a negative result in the TB tube doesn’t mean much (ie, the result is “indeterminate”) when the T-cells don’t respond to non-specific antigens.  This situation is analogous to calling a PPD “negative” when a patient is anergic!

References

  1. Herrera V, Yeh E, Murphy K, et al. Immediate incubation reduces indeterminate results for QuantiFERON-TB Gold in-Tube assay. J Clin Microbiol 2010;48:2672-2676. http://jcm.asm.org/content/48/8/2672.full
  2. Bui DHP, Cruz AT, Graviss EA. Indeterminate QuantiFERON-TB Gold in-Tube assay results in children. Ped Infect Dis J 2014; 33: 220-22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24413410
What does an “indeterminate” result in QuantiFERON Gold in-Tube test for latent tuberculosis really mean?

200 pearls and counting! Take the Pearls4Peers quiz #2!

Multiple choice (choose 1 answer)
1. Which of the following classes of antibiotics is associated with peripheral neuropathy?
a. Penicillins
b. Cephalosporins
c. Macrolides
d. Quinolones

 

 

2. The best time to test for inherited thrombophilia in a patient with acute deep venous thrombosis is…
a. At least 1 week after stopping anticoagulants and a minimum of 3 months of anticoagulation
b. Just before initiating anticoagulants
c. Once anticoagulation takes full effect
d. Any time, if suspected

 

 

3. All the following is true regarding brain MRI abnormalities following a seizure, except…
a. They are observed following status epilepticus only
b. They are often unilateral
c. They may occasionally be associated with leptomeningeal contrast enhancement
d. Abnormalities may persist for weeks or months

 

 

4. Which of the following is included in the quick SOFA criteria for sepsis?
a. Heart rate
b. Serum lactate
c. Temperature
d. Confusion

 

 

5. All of the following regarding iron replacement and infection is true, except…
a. Many common pathogens such as E.coli and Staphylococcus sp. depend on iron for their growth
b. Association of IV iron replacement and increased risk of infection has not been consistently demonstrated
c. A single randomized-controlled trial of IV iron in patients with active infection failed to show increased infectious complications or mortality with replacement
d. All of the above is true

 

True or false

1. Constipation may precede typical manifestations of Parkinson’s disease by 10 years or more
2. Urine Legionella antigen testing is >90% sensitive in legionnaire’s disease
3. Spontaneous coronary artery dissection should be particularly suspected in males over 50 years of age presenting with acute chest pain
4. Urine dipstick for detection of blood is >90% sensitive in identifying patients with rhabdomyolysis and CK >10,000 U/L
5. Diabetes is an independent risk factor for venous thrombophlebitis

 

 

 

Answer key
Multiple choice questions:1=d; 2=a;3=a;4=d;5=c
True or false questions:1=True; 2,3,4,5=False

 

200 pearls and counting! Take the Pearls4Peers quiz #2!