When evaluating for an esophageal perforation, is a water-soluble contrast agent such as Gastrografin a better and safer alternative to barium swallow study?

Water-soluble contrast agents (WCAs) (eg, meglumine diatrizoate or Gastrografin) are often ordered as the initial radiographic test for evaluation of esophageal perforation or leaks, followed by barium swallow if the test is negative because small leaks are better detected with the more radiopaque barium1.  Such practice, however, is based on extrapolation of data on the deleterious effect of barium when extravasated into the peritoneal cavity, not the mediastinum1.   In fact, clinical evidence linking mediastinitis to extravasated barium is lacking, and even in experimental studies, injection of barium into the mediastinum of cats have failed to cause clinically significant mediastinitis2.

When ordering a contrast swallow study, no medium should be considered totally safe or effective in detecting esophageal perforations or leaks and WCAs are no different. Potential disadvantages of WCAs include: 1. Inferior sensitivity (as low as 50%)—due to decreased radio-opacity—when compared to barium3; 2. Risk of pulmonary edema—occasionally lethal— when aspirated into the lung due to high osmolality (analogous to salt water drowning) and intense inflammatory reaction4,5; 3. Contraindication in the setting of tracheoesophageal fistula,6; 4. Risk of serious allergic reaction due to reabsorption of iodinated compounds1; and 5. Added exposure to radiation and cost of testing when the swallow study is repeated with barium.  For these reasons, the standard practice of an initial WCA followed by a barium swallow`study if the former is negative, has been questioned, with some centers foregoing the WCA study altogether in favor of barium swallow in certain patients 1,6.

In short, when evaluating for esophageal perforation, WCAs should not categorically be considered a “better” or “safer” alternative to barium; in certain situations, barium may be the preferred agent. When in doubt, input from a thoracic surgeon is recommended.  

 

References

  1. Gollub MJ, Bains MS. Barium sulfate: a new (old) contrast agent for diagnosis of postoperative esophageal leaks. Radiology 1997;202:360-62. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9015057
  2. James AE, Montali RJ, Chaffee V, et al. Barium or gastrografin: which contrast media for diagnosis of esophageal tears? Gastroenterology 1975;68:1103-1113. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1126592
  3. Berry BE, Ochsner JL. Perforation of the esophagus: a 30 year review. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 1973;65:1-7. http://www.jpedsurg.org/article/0022-3468(73)90248-0/abstract
  4. Trulzsch DV, PenmetsaA, Karim A, et al. Gastrografin-induced aspiration pneumonia: A lethal complication of computed tomography. South Med J 1992;85:1255-56. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1470976
  5. Tuladhar R, Patole S, Whitehall J. Gastrografin aspiration in a neonate with tracheoesophageal fistula. J Paediatr Child Health 2000; 36:94-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10723703
  6. FDA https://www.drugs.com/pro/gastrografin.html.
  7. Roh S, Iannettoni MD, Keech JC, et al. Role of barium swallow in diagnosing clinically significant anastomotic leak following esophagectomy. Korean J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 2016;49:99-109. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4825910/pdf/kjtcv-49-099.pdf

 

When evaluating for an esophageal perforation, is a water-soluble contrast agent such as Gastrografin a better and safer alternative to barium swallow study?

A previously healthy young man with chest pain is admitted to my service with the diagnosis of spontaneous pneumomediastinum. He doesn’t look ill at all. What causes should I consider?

Spontaneous pneumomediastinum (SP) is defined as the presence of mediastinal free air in the absence of an obvious precipitating cause and should not be confused with pneumomediastinum occurring in the setting of gross trauma or positive-pressure mechanical ventilation in intubated patients, or catastrophic events such as blunt or penetrating trauma, infection due to gas producing organisms, retropharyngeal perforation or esophageal rupture1,2.

SP frequently occurs in young men (Figure) and is associated with a variety of factors, most commonly illicit inhalational drug use (eg, marijuana, cocaine) and performance of a Valsalva-type maneuver causing alveolar rupture2.  Ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine –MDMA) ingestion is also associated with SP, possibly related to its attendant physical  hyperactivity (eg dancing, sexual activity) or a contaminant that may predispose to alveolar rupture3,4.  Other causes not related to illicit drug use include childbirth, forceful straining during exercise, straining at stool, coughing, sneezing, retching/vomiting, pulmonary function testing, and inflation of party balloons1!

SP should always be distinguished from complicated pneumomediastinum (eg, in the setting of perforated viscus, trauma, gas-forming organisms), as it usually follows a very benign course with patients recovering without specific intervention1,2,5.

Figure: Spontaneous pneumomediastinum due to vigorous exercise in a young male

pneumomedi2

References

  1. Newcomb AE, Clarke CP. Spontaneous pneumomediastinum: A benign curiosity or a significant problem? CHEST 2005;128:3298-3302. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16304275
  2. Panacek EA, Singer AJ, Sherman BW, et al. Spontaneous pneumomediastinum: clinical and natural history. Ann Emerg Med 1992;21:1222-27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1416301
  3. Gungadeen A, Moor J. Extensive subcutaneous emphysema and pneumomediastinum after ecstasy ingestion. Case Rep Otolaryngol 2013; http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2013/79587
  4. Stull BW. Spontaneous pneumomediastinum following ecstasy ingestion and sexual intercourse. Emerg Med J 2008;25:113-14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18212154
  5. Kelly S, Hughes S, Nixon S, et al. Spontaneous pneumomediastinum (Hamman’s syndrome). Surgeon 2010;8:63-66. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/articles/20303884
A previously healthy young man with chest pain is admitted to my service with the diagnosis of spontaneous pneumomediastinum. He doesn’t look ill at all. What causes should I consider?

What is the mechanism of anemia of chronic disease in my patient with rheumatoid arthritis?

Anemia of chronic disease (ACD)—or more aptly “anemia of inflammation”— is the second most common cause of anemia after iron deficiency and is associated with numerous acute or chronic conditions (eg, infection, cancer, autoimmune diseases, chronic organ rejection, and chronic kidney disease)1.

The hallmark of ACD is disturbances in iron homeostasis which result in increased uptake and retention of iron within cells of the reticuloendothelial system, with its attendant diversion of iron from the circulation and reduced availability for erythropoiesis1. More specifically, pathogens, cancer cells, or even the body’s own immune system stimulate CD3+ T cells and macrophages to produce a variety of cytokines, (eg, interferon-ɤ, TNF-α, IL-1, IL-6, and IL-10) which in turn increase iron storage within macrophages through induction of expression of ferritin, transferrin and divalent metal transporter 1.

In addition to increased macrophage storage of iron, ACD is also associated with IL-6-induced synthesis of hepcidin, a peptide secreted by the liver that decreases iron absorption from the duodenum and its release from macrophages2. TNF-α and interferon-ɤ also contribute to ACD by inhibiting the production of erythropoietin by the kidney.  Finally, the life span of RBCs is adversely impacted in AKD due to their reduced deformability and increased adherence to the endothelium in inflammatory states3.

Of interest, it is often postulated that by limiting access to iron through inflammation, the body hinders the growth of pathogens by depriving them of this important mineral2.

 

References

  1. Weiss, G and Goodnough, L. Anemia of chronic disease. N Engl J Med 2005; 352; 1011-23. http://www.med.unc.edu/medclerk/medselect/files/anemia2.pdf
  2. D’Angelo, G. Role of hepcidin in the pathophysiology and diagnosis of anemia. Blood Res 2013; 48(1): 10-15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3624997/pdf/br-48-10.pdf                                                                                                                                  
  3. Straat M, van Bruggen R, de Korte D, et al. Red blood cell clearance in inflammation. Transfus Med Hemother 2012;39:353-60. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3678279/pdf/tmh-0039-0353.pdf

 

Contributed by Amir Hossein Ameri, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

                     

What is the mechanism of anemia of chronic disease in my patient with rheumatoid arthritis?

My patient with cirrhosis has been admitted to the hospital several times this year with bacterial infections. How does cirrhosis increase susceptibility to infections?

Bacterial infections are a common cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with cirrhosis, affecting about 30% of such patients either at admission or during their hospitalization, with an attendant risk of mortality that is twice that of individuals without cirrhosis1.

Two major mechanisms may account for the observed immune dysfunction in cirrhosis: 1. Compromise of the immune surveillance function of the liver itself through damage of the reticulo-endothelial system (RES) and reduced synthesis of innate immunity proteins and pattern recognition receptors (PRRs); and 2. Dysfunctions of circulating and intestinal population of immune cells2.

Damage to the RES in cirrhosis leads to portal-system shunting, loss/damage of Kupffer cells (specialized hepatic macrophages) and sinusoidal capillarization, all hindering blood-borne pathogen clearance. Cirrhosis is also associated with a defect in hepatic protein synthesis, including complement components, decreased PRRs and acute phase reactants (eg C-reactive protein), which may in turn lead to the impairment of the innate immunity and bacterial opsonization.

Cirrhosis can also cause reduction in the number and function of neutrophils (eg, decreased phagocytosis and chemotaxis), B, T, and NK lymphocytes, and decreased in bacterial phagocytosis by monocytes. In addition, damage to the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (eg Peyer’s patches and mesenteric lymph nodes) may facilitate bacterial translocation.

References

  1. Pieri G, Agarwal B, Burroughs AK. C-reactive protein and bacterial infections in cirrhosis. Ann Gastroenterol 2014;27:113-120. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3982625/pdf/AnnGastroenterol-27-113.pdf
  2. Albillos A, Lario M, Alvarez-Mon M. Cirrhosis-associated immune dysfunction: distinctive features and clinical relevance. J Hepatol 2014;61:1385-1396. http://www.journal-of-hepatology.eu/article/S0168-8278(14)00549-2/pdf

 

My patient with cirrhosis has been admitted to the hospital several times this year with bacterial infections. How does cirrhosis increase susceptibility to infections?

My patient with cirrhosis and suspected infection has a normal serum C-reactive protein (CRP). Does cirrhosis affect CRP response to infection?

 

CRP is primarily synthesized by the liver mainly as a response to IL-6 production in inflammatory states1.  Lower CRP production may then be expected in cirrhotic patients with significant infections and several studies support this view2

In a particularly convincing study involving E. coli-infected patients with bacteremia, the median CRP level in cirrhotic patients was about 40% that of non-cirrhotic patients (62 mg/L vs 146 mg/L)3.  In another study involving bacteremic patients with or without liver dysfunction, median CRP level was about 60% that of  patients with preserved liver function (81 mg/L vs 139 mg/L)4.  Some investigators have reported a cut-off CRP value of 9.2 mg/L as a possible screening test for bacterial infections in patients with cirrhosis with a sensitivity and specificity of 88% (AUROC 0.93)5.

Collectively, these data suggest that although CRP response may be diminished in patients with advanced liver disease and acute infection, its synthesis is still maintained.

References

  1. Pieri G, Agarwal B, Burroughs AK. C-reactive protein and bacterial infection in cirrhosis. Ann Gastroenterol 2014;27:113-20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3982625/pdf/AnnGastroenterol-27-113.pdf
  2. Ha YE, Kang C-I, Joo E-J, et al. Usefulness of C-reactive protein for evaluating clinical outcomes in cirrhotic patients with bacteremia. Korean J Intern Med 2011;26:195-200. http://pubmedcentralcanada.ca/pmcc/articles/PMC3110852/pdf/kjim-26-195.pdf
  3. Park WB1, Lee KD, Lee CS et al. Production of C-reactive protein in Escherichia coli-infected patients with liver dysfunction due to liver cirrhosis. Diagn Microbiol Infect Dis. 2005 Apr;51(4):227-30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15808312
  4. Mackenzie I, Woodhouse J. C-reactive protein concentrations during bacteraemia: a comparison between patients with and without liver dysfunction. Intensive Care Med 2006;32:1344-51. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16799774
  5. Papp M, Vitalis Z, Altorjay I, et al. Acute phase proteins in the diagnosis and prediction of cirrhosis associated bacterial infection. Liver Int 2011;603-11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22145664

 

My patient with cirrhosis and suspected infection has a normal serum C-reactive protein (CRP). Does cirrhosis affect CRP response to infection?

Should I be concerned about piperacillin-tazobactam nephrotoxicity in the absence of vancomycin?

Nephrotoxicity associated with piperacillin-tazobactam (PT) combined with vancomycin (V) has been increasingly reported1,2,  with  some recommending that an alternative to V be used when PT is also on board 2. However, there are several reasons why the nephrotoxic potential of PT either alone or with antibiotics other than V also deserves further study before such recommendations can be widely embraced3.

First, most studies of VPT combination do not include comparative V or PT alone arms making it difficult to assess the relative contribution of these 2 antibiotics to kidney injury when used in combination. A small study that did include a PT-only  arm reported a similar rate of acute kidney injury (AKI) in PT and VPT arms ( 15.4% and 18.8% , respectively), both significantly higher that than of  V-only group (4%).4

 Other reasons not to readily dismiss PT as a cause of nephrototoxicity include the  lack of association between higher V trough levels and AKI in patients receiving VPT2, the association of PT with lower rates of renal function recovery in critically ill patients when compared to other selected β-lactams5,  and higher magnesium and potassium renal tubular loss with the use of PT compared to selected cephalosporins and ciprofloxacin6.  As with other penicillins, PT-associated acute interstitial nephritis may also occur7-8.

In short, even in the absence of V, nephrotoxic potential of PT should not be automatically dismissed.

 

Disclosure: Ref 3 was also authored by the creator of this pearl.

References

  1. Hammond DA, Smith MN, Chenghui Li, et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of acute kidney injury associated with concomitant vancomycin and piperacillin/tazobactam. Clin Infect Dis 2017;64:666-74.
  2. Navalkele B, Pogue JM, Karino S, et al. Risk of acute kidney injury in patients on concomitant vancomycin and piperacillin-tazobactam compared to those on vancomycin and cefepime. Clin Infect Dis 2017;64:116-123.
  3. Manian FA. Should we revisit the nephrotoxic potential of piperacillin-tazobactam as well? Clin Infect Dis 2017; https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/cix321
  4. Kim T, Kandiah S, Patel M, et al. Risk factors for kidney injury during vancomycin and piperacillin/tazobactam administration, including increased odds of injury with combination therapy. BMC Res Notes 2015;8:579.
  5. Jensen J-U S, Hein L, Lundgren B, et al. Kidney failure related to broad-spectrum antibiotics in critically ill patients: secondary end point results from a 1200 patient randomized trial. BMJ Open 2012;2:e000635. http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/2/2/e000635
  6. Polderman KH, Girbes ARJ. Piperacillin-induced magnesium and potassium loss in intensive care unit patients. Intensive Care Med 2002;28:530-522.
  7. Muriithi AK, Leung N, Valeri AM, et al. Clinical characteristics, causes and outcomes of acute interstitial nephritis in the elderly. Kidney International 2015;87:458-464.
  8. Soto J, Bosch JM, Alsar Ortiz MJ, et al. Piperacillin-induced acute interstitial nephritis. Nephron 1993;65:154-155. 
Should I be concerned about piperacillin-tazobactam nephrotoxicity in the absence of vancomycin?

My middle age patient complains of night sweats for several months, but she has had no weight loss and does not appear ill. What could I be missing?

Night sweats (NS) is a common patient complaint, affecting about a third of hospitalized patients on medical wards1.  Despite its long list of potential causes, direct relationship between the often- cited conditions and NS is usually unclear2, its cause may remain elusive In about a third to half of cases in the primary care setting, and its prognosis, at least in those >65 y of age, does not appear to be unfavorable 2,3.

Selected commonly and less frequently cited conditions associated with NS are listed (Table)2-9.  Although tuberculosis is one of the first conditions we think of when faced with a patient with NS, it should be emphasized that NS is not common in this disease (unless advanced) and is rare among hospitalized patients as a cause of their NS1,9.

In one of the larger study of adult patients seen in primary care setting, 23% reported pure NS and an additional 18% reported night and day sweats5; the prevalence of NS in both men and women was highest in 41-55 y age group. In multivariate analyses, factors associated with pure NS in women were hot flashes and panic attacks; in men, sleep disorders. 

Table. Selected causes of night sweats

Commonly cited Less frequently cited
Neoplastic/hematologic (eg, lymphoma, leukemia, myelofibrosis)

Infections (eg, HIV, tuberculosis, endocarditis)

Endocrine (eg, ovarian failure, hyperthyroidism, orchiectomy, carcinoid tumor, diabetes mellitus [nocturnal hypoglycemia], pheochromocytoma)

Rheumatologic (eg, giant cell arteritis)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease

B-12 deficiency

Pulmonary embolism

Drugs (eg, anti-depressants, SSRIs, donepezil [Aricept], tacatuzumab)

Sleep disturbances (eg, obstructive sleep apnea)

Panic attacks/anxiety disorder

Obesity

Hemachromatosis

Diabetes insipidus

References

  1. Lea MJ, Aber RC, Descriptive epidemiology of night sweats upon admission to a university hospital. South Med J 1985;78:1065-67.
  2. Mold JW, Holtzclaw BJ, McCarthy L. Night sweats: A systematic review of the literature. J Am Board Fam Med 2012; 25-878-893.
  3. Mold JW, Lawler F. The prognostic implications of night sweats in two cohorts of older patients. J Am Board Fam Med 2010;23:97-103.
  4. Mold JW, Holtzclaw BJ. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and night sweats in a primary care population. Drugs-Real World Outcomes 2015;2:29-33.
  5. Mold JW, Mathew MK, Belgore S, et al. Prevalence of night sweats in primary care patients: An OKPRN and TAFP-Net collaborative study. J Fam Pract 2002; 31:452-56.
  6. Feher A, Muhsin SA, Maw AM. Night sweats as a prominent symptom of a patient presenting with pulmonary embolism. Case reports in Pulmonology 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/841272
  7. Rehman HU. Vitamin B12 deficiency causing night sweats. Scottish Med J 2014;59:e8-11.
  8. Murday HK, Rusli FD, Blandy C, et al. Night sweats: it may be hemochromatosis. Climacteric 2016;19:406-8.
  9. Fred HL. Night sweats. Hosp Pract 1993 (Aug 15):88.
My middle age patient complains of night sweats for several months, but she has had no weight loss and does not appear ill. What could I be missing?