Why is my hospitalized patient with alcohol withdrawal syndrome so thrombocytopenic?

Although thrombocytopenia associated with chronic alcoholism may be related to complications of cirrhosis (eg, platelet sequestration in spleen due to portal hypertension, poor platelet production, and increased platelet destruction) (1), it may also occur in the absence of cirrhosis due to the direct toxic effect of alcohol on platelet production and survival (2).

In a prospective study of patients ingesting the equivalent of a fifth or more daily of 86 proof whiskey admitted for treatment of alcohol withdrawal—without evidence of severe liver disease, infection or sepsis— 81% had initial platelet counts below 150,000/µl, with about one-third having platelet counts below 100,000 µl (as low as 24,000/ul) (3).

In most patients, 2-3 days elapsed before the platelet count began to rise significantly, peaking 5-18 days after admission. Others have also reported that platelet counts rise within 5-7 days and normalize in a few weeks after alcohol withdrawal (1); bleeding complications have been uncommon in this setting.

Perhaps even more intriguing is the report of the association between thrombocytopenia in early alcohol withdrawal and the development of delirium tremens or seizures (sensitivity and specificity ~ 70%, positive predictive value less than 10% but with a negative predictive value of 99%) (4)! In fact, the authors suggested that, if their findings are corroborated, a normal platelet count could potentially be used to identify patients at low risk of alcohol withdrawal syndrome and therefore outpatient therapy. 

1. Mitchell O, Feldman D, Diakow M, et al. The pathophysiology of thrombocytopenia in chronic liver disease. Hepatic Medicine: Evidence and Research 2016;8 39-50. https://www.dovepress.com/the-pathophysiology-of-thrombocytopenia-in-chronic-liver-disease-peer-reviewed-article-HMER
2. Cowan DH. Effect of alcoholism on hemostasis. Semin Hematol 1980;17:137-47. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6990498
3. Cowan DH, Hines JD. Thrombocytopenia of severe alcoholism. Ann Intern Med 1971;74:37-43. http://annals.org/aim/article-abstract/685069/thrombocytopenia-severe-alcoholism.

4. Berggren U, Falke C, Berglund KJ, et al. Thrombocytopenia in early alcohol withdrawal is associated with development of delirium tremens or seizures. Alcohol & Alcoholism 2009;44:382-86. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19293148

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Why is my hospitalized patient with alcohol withdrawal syndrome so thrombocytopenic?

Is neurotoxicity caused by cefepime common?

The incidence of cefepime-induced neurotoxicity (CIN) has varied from 1% to 15%.1 Potential clinical manifestations of CIN include delirium, impaired level of consciousness, disorientation/agitation, myoclonus, non-convulsive status epilepticus, seizures, and aphasia.1  Many of these signs and symptoms (eg, delirium) are common among hospitalized patients.

Although renal dysfunction and inadequately adjusted dosages are often cited as risk factors, one-half of patients develop suspected CIN despite apparently proper adjustment for renal function.In addition,  several case reports of CIN have involved patients with normal renal function. 2  A study of 1120 patients receiving cefepime found epileptiform discharges in 14 cases, most having normal renal function.3 Of interest, in the same study, the prevalence of epileptiform discharges was 6-fold higher than that of meropenem!

Proposed mechanisms for CIN include its avidity for central nervous system GABA-A receptors (higher than that of many beta-lactam antibiotics) combined with its high concentration in brain tissue.1 Renal impairment, decreased protein binding, increased organic acid accumulation can increase transfer of cefepime across the blood brain barrier from an expected 10% to up to 45% of its serum concentration, further contributing to its neurotoxicity.4



  1. Appa AA, Jain R, Rakita RM, et al. Characterizing cefepime neurotoxicity: a systematic review. Open Forum Infectious Diseases 2017 Oct 10;4(4):ofx170. doi: 10.1093/ofid/ofx170. eCollection 2017 Fall. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29071284
  2. Meillier A, Rahimian D. Cefepime-induced encephalopathy with normal renal function. Oxford Medical Case Reports, 2016;6, 118-120. https://academic.oup.com/omcr/article/2016/6/118/2362353
  3. Naeije G, Lorent S, Vincent JL, et al. Continuous epileptiform discharges in patients treated with cefpime or meropenem Arch Neurol 2011;68:1303-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21987544
  4. Payne LE, Gaganon DJ, Riker RR, et al. Cefepime-induced neurotoxicity: a systematic review. Critical Care 017;21:276. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29137682


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Is neurotoxicity caused by cefepime common?

Should my patient with compensated heart failure be placed on a sodium-restricted diet?

Although sodium restriction is routinely recommended for patients with heart failure (HF), the data is often conflicting with a number of studies even suggesting that it may be harmful in some patients.

Two randomized trials (by the same group) involving patients with compensated HF recently discharged from the hospital reported that “less restricted” sodium diet (2.8 gm/d) along with fluid restriction (1 L/day) and high dose furosemide (at least 125-250 mg furosemide twice daily) was associated with less rates of readmissions and improved levels of brain natriuretic peptide, aldosterone and plasma renin activity compared to patients on more restricted sodium diet (1.8 gm/d). 1,2

Analysis of data from the multihospital HF Adherence and Retention Trial enrolling New York Heart Association functional class II/III HF patients found that sodium restriction (<2.5 gm/d) was associated with significantly higher risk of death or HF hospitalization but only in patients not on an angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor (ACEI) or angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB). 3

In normal subjects who are not sodium deprived, excess sodium intake has been shown to cause expansion of intravascular volume without increasing total body water. 4 Thus, sodium restriction combined with diuretics may reduce intravascular volume and renal perfusion, further stimulating the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system and fluid retention. 5

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that the 2013 American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association guidelines downgraded the recommendation for sodium restriction to Class IIa (reasonable) with Level of Evidence:C? 6


  1. Paterna S, Gaspare P, Fasullo S, et al. Normal-sodium diet compared with low-sodium diet in compensated congestive heart failure: is sodium an old enemy or a new friend? Clin Sci 2008;114:221-230. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17688420
  2. Paterna S, Parrinello G, Cannizzaro S, et al. Medium term effects of different dosage of diuretic, sodium, and fluid administration on neurohormonal and clinical outcome in patients with recently compensated heart failure. Am J Cardiol 2009;103:93-102. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19101237
  3. Doukky R, Avery E, Mangla A, et al.Impact of dietary sodium restriction on heart failure outcomes. J Am Coll Cariol HF 2016;4:24-35. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4705447/
  4. Heer M, Baisch F, Kropp J et al. High dietary sodium chloride consumption may not induce body fluid retention in humans. Am J Physiol Renal Physiol 2000;278:F585-F595. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10751219
  5. Rothberg MB, Sivalingam SK. The new heart failure diet: less salt restriction, more micronutrients. J Gen Intern Med 25;1136-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2955483/
  6. Yancy CW, Jessup M, Bozkurt B, et al. 2013 CCF/AHA guideline for the management of heart failure: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol 2013;62:e147-239. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23741058

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Should my patient with compensated heart failure be placed on a sodium-restricted diet?

Should my patient with suspected alcoholic hepatitis undergo liver biopsy?

Although a characteristic clinical history and biochemical pattern of liver injury can strongly suggest the diagnosis of alcoholic hepatitis (AH), a definitive diagnosis is confirmed with liver biopsy only. In fact, in 30% of patients clinically diagnosed as having AH, a liver biopsy may lead to an alternative diagnosis.1Understandably, many physicians are reluctant to proceed with biopsy in this fragile patient population given the associated risks, notably bleeding. For this reason, most patients with AH are clinically diagnosed without a liver biopsy. However, there are certain instances in which a biopsy can be helpful, including when:2

  • Diagnosis of AH is in doubt
  • Suspicion for another disease process that may be contributing in parallel to AH is high
  • Obtaining prognostic data or identification of advanced hepatic fibrosis or cirrhosis in AH is desired

Thus, liver biopsy findings may influence short- and long-term management in AH. For these reasons, the European Association for the Study of the Liver recommends consideration of a liver biopsy in patients with AH.3 To minimize the bleeding risk, the transjugular approach is preferred.


  1. Mookerjee RP, Lackner C, Stauber R, et al. The role of liver biopsy in the diagnosis and prognosis of patients with acute deterioration of alcoholic cirrhosis. J Hepatol 2011; 55:1103-1111 Link
  2. Altamirano J, Miquel R, Katoonizadeh A, et al. A histologic scoring system for prognosis of patients with alcoholic hepatitis. Gastroenterology 2014;146: 1231-1239. PDF
  3. European Association for the Study of Liver. EASL clinical practical guidelines: management of alcoholic liver disease. J Hepatol 2012; 57:399-420. PDF

Contributed by Jay Luther, MD, Gastrointestinal Unit, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA.

Should my patient with suspected alcoholic hepatitis undergo liver biopsy?

Can native valve infective endocarditis be associated with hemolytic anemia?

Yes, but it’s rare!  Hemolytic anemia (HA) in the setting of infective endocarditis (IE) has only been described in a few case reports (1-3).  Although diseased valves may cause shearing stress that fragments RBCs, similar to that associated with mechanical heart valves, an autoimmune hemolytic process has also been implicated. 

A 2018 case report describes a patient with hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy (HOCM) with left ventricular outflow tract (LVOT) obstruction who had HA secondary to subacute IE due to Actinomyces israelii (1).   The anemia completely resolved after treating the IE (1). The cause was most likely mechanical shearing (schistocytes or fragmented RBCs present on peripheral smear) by the diseased valves; autoimmune hemolysis was considered unlikely in this case due to consistently negative Coombs tests and failure to respond to corticosteroids (1). 

An autoimmune mechanism was invoked by a 1999 report reviewing 6 cases of HA associated with IE (3).  All patients had fragmented erythrocytes, but several also demonstrated an immune-mediated mechanism for their HA, supported by the presence of spherocytes, splenomegaly, and + Coombs test (2,3).  The production of anti-erythrocyte antibodies, modification of antigenicity of erythrocyte antigens, or unmasking of antigens in IE may play a role (1,3). Additional evidence in support of an immune-mediated mechanism of HA in IE has been provided by an experimental study demonstrating significantly shorter RBC half-life in rabbits with intact spleen compared to that of splenectomized animals (4).



1. Toom S, Xu Y. Hemolytic anemia due to native valve subacute endocarditis with Actinomyces israellii infection. Clin Case Rep 2018;6: 376-79. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/ccr3.1333 

2. Hsu CM, Lee PI, Chen JM, et al. Fatal Fusarium endocarditis complicated by hemolytic anemia and thrombocytopenia in an infant. Pediatr Infect Dis 1994;13:1146-48. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7892087 

3. Huang HL, Lin FC, Hung KC, et al. Hemolytic anemia in native valve infective endocarditis. Jpn Circ J 1999;63:400-403. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10943622 

4. Joyce RA, Sand MA. Mechanism of anaemia in experimental bacterial endocarditis. Scand J Haematol 1975;15:306-11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1198067 


Contributed by Scott Goodwin, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. 


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Can native valve infective endocarditis be associated with hemolytic anemia?

How can I tell if my febrile patient who uses IV drugs had cotton fever?

Although IV drug use (IVDU) is associated with febrile illness of numerous etiologies (eg, soft tissue infections, pneumonia, bacteremia, endocarditis), certain features of a febrile illness may be helpful in considering cotton fever (CF) as the cause.1-3

First, onset of fever—often associated with chills, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, headache, abdominal pain and myalgias—in CF is usually manifest within 10-30 minutes of drug injection. Second, infectious disease workup, including blood cultures and chest radiograph, are unrevealing despite clinical signs of systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), such as leukocytosis, tachypnea and tachycardia. Third, symptoms and clinical signs of inflammation usually resolve or improve within 6-12 h of onset (less commonly up to 24-48 h). Nevertheless, CF remains a diagnosis of exclusion.

As for the cause of CF, the most widely-held theory revolves around the endotoxin of Pentoea agglomerans (formerly Enterobacter agglomerans), a gram-negative rod that colonizes cotton plants. Since cotton is often used as a filter during injection of illicit substances, any endotoxin present in the cotton is also injected resulting in abrupt onset of a febrile illness. Of note, the toxin is water soluble and heating (often part of the preparation of the drug) enhances its toxic effect.3


  1. Zerr AM, Ku K, Kara A. Cotton Fever: a condition self-diagnosed by IV drug users. JABFM 2016;29: 276-279.PDF
  2. Xie Y, Pope BA, Hunter AJ. Cotton fever: does the patient know best? J Gen Intern Med 31:442-4. PDF
  3. Torka P, Gill S. Cotton fever: an evanescent process mimicking sepsis in an intravenous drug abuser. J Emerg Med 2013;44:e385-e387. PDF
How can I tell if my febrile patient who uses IV drugs had cotton fever?

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?