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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References
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. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1358029/pdf/annsurg00170-0061.pdf
2. Huffman JL, Schenker S. Acute acalculous cholecystitis: A review. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2010;8:15-22. https://www.cghjournal.org/article/S1542-3565(09)00880-5/pdf
3. Hakala T, Nuutinene PJO, Ruokonen ET, et al. Microangiopathy in acute acalculous cholecystitis Br J Surg 1997;84:1249-52. https://bjssjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1365-2168.1997.02775.x?sid=nlm%3Apubmed
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. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4941110/
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. https://journals.lww.com/pidj/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2018&issue=02000&article=00020&type=Fulltext  
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. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3784234/pdf/CRIM.ID2013-407182.pdf
7. Simoes AS, Marinhas A, Coelho P, et al. Acalculous acute cholecystitis during the course of an enteroviral infection. BMJ Case Rep 2013;12. https://casereports.bmj.com/content/12/4/e228306
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. https://jitc.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40425-019-0604-2

 

 

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

My elderly patient with abdominal pain has a negative Murphy’s sign on physical exam. How accurate is Murphy’s sign in diagnosing cholecystitis?

Not as accurate as we might like! In fact, no single clinical finding has been found to carry sufficient weight in ruling in or excluding cholecystitis and Murphy’s sign (inability to take a deep breath due to pain upon palpation of the right upper quadrant) is no exception. 1

A meta-analysis of patients with Murphy’s sign reported a sensitivity of 65% and a specificity of 87% (positive LR 2.8, negative LR 0.4, with 95% C.I. including 1.0 in both). 1,2  However, among the elderly (mean age 79 y), the sensitivity may be a slow as 48% 2 and in patients with gangrenous cholecystitis as low as 33%.3  

In contrast, Murphy’ s sign elicited at the time of ultrasound of the gallbladder (ie,“sonographic Murphy’s) is generally thought to very sensitive  (>90%) for acute cholecystitis;3,4 1 study reported a sensitivity of 63%, however (specificity 94%).5  Remember that altered mental status may also mask sonographic Murphy’s sign. 

Indirect fist percussion of the liver has been suggested by some authors as a more sensitive alternative to Murphy’s sign (100% vs 80%) in a small series of patients with cholecystitis.2

Bonus pearl: Did you know that another technique originally described by the famed American surgeon, John Murphy, to diagnose acute cholecystitis consisted of the “hammer stroke maneuver” in which percussion of the right midsubcostal region with the bent middle finger of the left hand was performed using the right hand to strike the dorsum of the left hand with hammer-like blows? 6

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References

  1. Trowbridge RL, Rutkowski NK, Shojania KG. Does this patient have acute cholecystitis. JAMA 2003;289:80-86. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/195707
  2. Ueda T, Ishida E. Indirect fist percussion of the liver is a more sensitive technique for detecting hepatobiliary infections than Murphy’s sign. Current Gerontol Geriat Res, Volume 2015, Article ID 431638. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/cggr/2015/431638/
  3. Simeone JF, Brink JA, Mueller PR, et al. The sonographic diagnosis of acute gangrenous cholecystitis. The importance of the Murphy sign. AJR 1989;152:289-90. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2643262
  4. O’Connor OJ, Maher MM. Imaging of cholecystitis. AJR 2011;196:W36774. https://www.ajronline.org/doi/full/10.2214/AJR.10.4340
  5. Rallis PW, Lapin SA, Quinn MF, et al. Prospective evaluation of the sonographic Murphy sign in suspected acute cholecystitis. J Clin Ultrasound 1982;10:113-5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6804512
  6. Salati SA, al Kadi A. Murphy’s sign of cholecystitis-a brief revisit. Journal of Signs and Symptoms 2012;1:53-6. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/230820198_Murphy’s_sign_of_cholecystitis-_a_brief_revisit

 

 

My elderly patient with abdominal pain has a negative Murphy’s sign on physical exam. How accurate is Murphy’s sign in diagnosing cholecystitis?

What is the clinical significance of “white bile” from my patient’s gallbladder drain?

“White bile” (WB) (Figure) is a clear sero-mucous secretion of gallbladder that is largely devoid of bilirubin and bile salts. It arises from glycoproteins that are normally secreted by the mucosal glands of the gallbladder infundibulum and neck, and is thought to shield the gallbladder wall from the lytic action of bile.

WB is observed in “hydrops” of gallbladder and is caused by absorption of bile by the gallbladder wall in the setting of persistent cystic duct obstruction1. It is commonly held that in persistent cystic duct obstruction, bile in the gallbladder is eventually absorbed into the lymphatics and blood vessels but that the gallbladder epithelium continues to produce clear sero-mucous secretions. In this setting, dilatation, perforation, and atrophy of the gallbladder lumen may also occur1-3.  Early cholecystostomy tube placement or cholecystectomy is often indicated1,3.

Common etiologies of persistent cystic duct blockage in adults include, stone impaction, cystic duct stenosis, tumors/polyps, and parasites (eg, ascariasis).

Figure: “White bile” drainage from a cholecystostomy drain of a patient with cholecystitis and persistent cystic duct blockage due to stones. The drainage was completely clear with mucous characteristics. 

whitebile

Reference:

  1. Schwartz, Seymour I, Brunicardi, F. Charles., eds. Schwartz’s Principles Of Surgery. New York : McGraw-Hill Medical, 2011.
  2. Ahmed A, Cheung RC, Keeffe EB. Management of gallstones and their complications. Am Fam Physician 2000; 61, 1673-1680.
  3. Lawrence S. Friedman, Mark Feldman. Sleisenger and Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease 10th Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, 2015.

Contributed by Alireza Sameie, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

What is the clinical significance of “white bile” from my patient’s gallbladder drain?