Should I routinely treat my patients with acute COPD exacerbation with antibiotics?

The answer is “NO”! With an estimated 20% to 50% of acute chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbations attributed to noninfectious factors (1,2), routine inclusion of antibiotics in the treatment of this condition is not only unnecessary but potentially harmful.

 
Although the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) guidelines recommends the use of antibiotics in patients who have dyspnea, increased sputum volume, and increased sputum purulence—or at least 2 of these 3 criteria when sputum purulence is one of them (3)—, these recommendations are not based on robust evidence and have not been widely corroborated (2,4-6).

 
That’s why the findings of a 2019 New England Journal of Medicine study (PACE) supporting the use of serum C-reactive protein (CRP) as an adjunctive test in COPD exacerbation is particularly welcome (1). In this multicenter randomized controlled trial performed in the U.K., the following CRP guidelines (arrived from prior studies) were provided to primary care clinicians to be used as part of their decision making in determining which patients with COPD exacerbation may not need antibiotic therapy:

 
• CRP less than 20 mg/L: Antibiotics unlikely to be beneficial
• CRP 20-40 mg/L: Antibiotics may be beneficial, mainly if purulent sputum is present
• CRP greater than 40 mg/L: Antibiotics likely to be beneficial

 
Adoption of these guidelines resulted in significantlly fewer patients being placed on antibiotics without evidence of harm over a 4-week follow-up period (1).  Despite its inherent limitations (eg, single country, outpatient setting), CRP testing may be a step in the right direction in curbing unnecessary use of antibiotics in COPD exacerbation.  

 

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References

 
1. Butler CC, Gillespie D, White P, et al. C-reactive protein testing to guide antibiotic prescribing for COPD exacerbations. N Engl J Med 2019;381:111-20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31291514
2. Llor C, Moragas A, Hernandez S, et al. Efficacy of antibiotic therapy for acute exacerbations of mild to moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2012;186:716-23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22923662
3. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease. Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. GOLD, 2019 (http://www.goldcopd.org).
4. Brett AS, Al-Hasan MN. COPD exacerbations—A target for antibiotic stewardship. N Engl J Med 2018;381:174-75. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31291521
5. Miravitlles M, Moragas A, Hernandez S, et al. Is it possible to identify exacerbations of mild to moderate COPD that do not require antibiotic treatment? Chest 2013;144:1571-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23807094
6. Van Vezen P, Ter Riet G, Bresser P, et al. Doxycycline for outpatient-treated acute exacerbations of COPD: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Lancet Respir Med 2017;5:492-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28483402

Should I routinely treat my patients with acute COPD exacerbation with antibiotics?

How is prealbumin related to albumin?

Aside from being synthesized in the liver and serving as a transport protein in the blood, prealbumin (PA) doesn’t really have much in common with albumin. More specifically, PA is not derived from albumin and, in fact, the two proteins are structurally distinct from each other!

So where does PA get its name? PA is the original name for transthyretin (TTR), a transport protein that primarily carries thyroxine (T4) and a protein bound to retinol (vitamin A). The name arose because TTR migrated faster than albumin on gel electrophoresis of human serum.1

Because of its much shorter serum half-life compared to that of albumin ( ~2 days vs ~20 days),2 PA is more sensitive to recent changes in protein synthesis and more accurately reflects recent dietary intake (not necessarily overall nutritional status) than albumin. 3

But, just like albumin, PA may represent a negative acute phase reactant, as its synthesis drops during inflammatory states in favor of acute phase reactants such as C-reactive protein. 4 So be cautious about interpreting low PA levels in patients with active infection, inflammation or trauma.

 

Reference

  1. Socolow EL, Woeber KA, Purdy RH, et al. Preparation of I-131-labeled human serum prealbumin and its metabolism in normal and sick patients. J. Clin Invest 1965; 44: 1600-1609. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC292644/
  2. Oppenheimer JH, Surks MI, Bernstein G, and Smith JC. Metabolism of Iodine-131-labeled Thyroxine-Binding Prealbumin in Man. Science 1965; 149: 748-750. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14330531
  3. Ingenbleek Y, Young VR. Significance of prealbumin in protein metabolism. Clin Chem Lab Med 2002; 40: 1281-1291. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12553432
  4. Shenkin A. Serum prealbumin: is it a marker of nutritional status or of risk of malnutrition? Clin Chem 2006;52:2177 – 2179. http://clinchem.aaccjnls.org/content/52/12/2177

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Contributed by Colin Fadzen, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.

 

 

How is prealbumin related to albumin?

Why are patients with acute exacerbation of COPD at higher risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE)?

Patients admitted to the hospital for acute exacerbation of COPD are generally regarded as being at high risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE) (prevalence 5%-29%), possibly due to the frequent coexistence of other risk factors, such as immobility, history of smoking, and venous stasis.1 The exact mechanism(s) behind this association remains poorly understood, however.

Among patients with moderate-very severe COPD (GOLD criteria stage II-IV),  high BMI, low exercise tolerance, history of pneumothorax, congestive heart failure, and peripheral vascular disease have also been associated with VTE.1

Systemic inflammation has also been implicated in increasing the risk of VTE in patients with COPD. Although the pathophysiology of COPD is largely defined by the local inflammatory response to airway injury, evidence suggests that there is also a systemic inflammatory response in COPD.2,3 This systemic inflammation could in turn contribute to the increased risk of vascular disease, including VTE, coronary artery disease, and cerebrovascular disease.4

Bonus pearl: Did you know that VTE may be 3x more prevalent among patients with COPD exacerbation without known cause (vs those with identifiable cause) and is associated with a 1-year mortality of 61.9%! 5

References:

  1. Kim V, Goel N, Gangar J, et al. Risk factors for venous thromboembolism in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Chronic Obstr Pulm Dis 2014;1: 239-249. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25844397
  2. Lankeit M, Held M. Incidence of venous thromboembolism in COPD: linking inflammation and thrombosis? Eur Respir J 2016;47(2):369-73. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26828045
  3. Sinden NJ1, Stockley RA. Systemic inflammation and comorbidity in COPD: a result of ‘overspill’ of inflammatory mediators from the lungs? Review of the evidence. Thorax 2010;65:930-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20627907
  4. King PT. Inflammation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and its role in cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. Clinical and Translational Medicine 2015;4:26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4518022/
  5. Gunen H, Gulbas G, In E, et al. Venous thromboemboli and exacerbations of COPD. Eur Respir J 2010;36:1243-8.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19926740 

Contributed by Camilo Campo, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.

Why are patients with acute exacerbation of COPD at higher risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE)?

Should I order serum procalcitonin on my patient with suspected infection?

Two things to ask before you order procalcitonin (PCT): 1. Will it impact patient management?; and 2. If so, will the result be available in a timely manner ie, within hours not days?

Whatever the result, PCT should always be interpreted in the context of the patient’s illness and other objective data. Not surprisingly then, as a “screening” test, PCT may be more useful in patients with low pre-test likelihood of having bacterial infection, not dissimilar to the use of D-dimer in patients with low pre-test probability of pulmonary embolism1.  

Several potential clinical uses of this biomarker have emerged in recent years,  including:1,2

  • Helping decide when to initiate antibiotics in patients with upper acute respiratory tract infections and bronchitis. A normal or low PCT supports viral infection.
  • Helping decide when to discontinue antibiotics (ie, when PCT normalizes) in community-acquired or ventilator-associated pneumonia.
  • Helping monitor patient progress with an expected drop in PCT of about 50% per day (half-life ~ 24 hrs) with effective therapy.

Few caveats…

  • PCT may be unremarkable in about a third of patients with bacteremia (especially due to less virulent bacteria, including many gram-positives)3.  
  • PCT levels are lowered by high-flux membrane hemodialysis, so check a baseline level before, not after, hemodialysis4.
  • Lastly, despite its higher specificity for bacterial infections compared to other biomarkers such as C-reactive protein, PCT may be elevated in a variety of non-infectious conditions, including pancreatitis, burns, pulmonary edema or aspiration, mesenteric infarction (ischemic bowel), cardiogenic shock, and hypotension during surgery2.

 

References:

  1. Schuetz P, Muller B, Chirst-Crain M, et al. Procalcitonin to initiate or discontinue antibiotics in acute respiratory tract infections (review). Evid-Based Child Health (A Cochrane Review Journal) 2013;8:4;1297-137. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ebch.1927/pdf
  2. Gilbert GN. Use of plasma procalcitonin levels as an adjunct to clinical microbiology. J Clin Microbiol 2010;48:2325-29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2897488/pdf/0655-10.pdf
  3. Yan ST, Sun LC, Jia HB. Procalcitonin levels in bloodstream infections caused by different sources and species of bacteria. Am J Emerg Med 2017;35:779-83. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/27979420/#fft
  4. Grace E, Turner RM. Use of procalcitonin in patients with various degrees of chronic kidney disease including renal replacement therapy. Clin Infect Dis 2014;59:1761-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25228701
Should I order serum procalcitonin on my patient with suspected infection?

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.

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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?

When should I suspect spinal epidural abscess in my 55 year old patient with severe back pain?

 It cannot be overemphasized that up 50% of patients with spinal epidural abscess (SEA) have no known risk factors,  one-half may have no fever,  and 20-40% lack leukocytosis1. In fact, the “classic triad” of back pain, fever, and neurological deficits is found only in the minority of patients!  No wonder that up to 75% of patients SEA are misdiagnosed on their initial healthcare encounter1!

Potential “red flags” for infectious causes of low back pain include age >50 y, night pain, unremitting pain even when supine, duration > 6 weeks, fever, chills, night sweats, weight loss, conditions associated with Staphylococcus aureus bacteremia (eg intravenous drug use), incontinence, saddle anesthesia, and severe or rapidly progressive neurologic deficits1,2.  

ESR and C-reactive protein (CRP) are almost uniformly elevated in SEA1 and can serve as a good starting point in excluding this condition when in doubt.   In patients ≥50 y of age with low back pain, obtaining ESR routinely has been suggested for detection of systemic disease (eg cancer, infection)3.  Similarly, in a recent algorithm of severe back pain, routine measurements of ESR and CRP, even in the absence of any neurological findings, has been recommended1; elevation of either may necessitate consideration of MRI.

 

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References:

  1. Bond, A, Manian FA. Spinal epidural abscess: a review with special emphasis on earlier diagnosis. BioMed Res International 2016; https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2016/1614328/http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2016/1614328  
  2. Della-Giustina. Acute low back pain: recognizing the “red flags” in the workup. Consultant 2013;53:436-440. http://www.consultant360.com/article/acute-low-back-pain-recognizing-%E2%80%9Cred-flags%E2%80%9D-workup
  3. Jarvik JG, Deyo RA. Diagnostic evaluation of low back pain with emphasis on imaging. Ann Intern Med 2002;137:586-597. http://annals.org/aim/article/715687/diagnostic-evaluation-low-back-pain-emphasis-imaging

 

Disclosure: The author of this post (FAM) also coauthored reference 1.

When should I suspect spinal epidural abscess in my 55 year old patient with severe back pain?

Is there a seasonal variation in the incidence of cardiovascular (CV) events or venous thromboembolism (VTE)?

Seasonal variation, primarily characterized by a winter peak, has been reported for acute CV events, such as acute myocardial infarction (AMI) and sudden death, aortic rupture or dissection, and ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke, and VTE (1). A meta-analysis involving patients with VTE, primarily with a diagnosis of pulmonary embolism, revealed a 20% absolute increase in the incidence of VTE during January (1).  

Potential physiological mechanisms for these observations include increased sympathetic activity, decreased loss of fluids and sodium, increase in LDL cholesterol, increase in serum fibrinogen levels and other coagulation markers and C-reactive protein, and lower vitamin D levels due to shorter daylight hours during winter months (1,2).  At least in the case of AMI in the U.S., the higher incidence in winter is not affected by climate (2).  

Respiratory virus infections as a cause of acute inflammation leading to  CV or VTE events is another intriguing explanation (3). Indeed, influenza vaccination has been associated with reduction in hospitalization for cardiac disease and stroke among the elderly (4) and, in patients with cardiovascular disease, a reduction in death due to combined cardiovascular disease events such as heart attacks and strokes (5).

 

 

References

  1. Dentali F, Ageno W, Rancan E, et al. Seasonal and monthly variability in the incidence of venous thromboembolism. A systematic review and a meta-analysis of the literature. Thromb Haemost 2011;106:439-447. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21725580
  2. Spencer FA, Goldberg RJ, Becker RC, et al. Seasonal distribution of acute myocardial infarction in the Second National Registry of Myocardial Infarction. J Am Coll Cardiol 1998;31:1226-33.h ttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9581712
  3. Woodhouse PR, Khaw KT, Plummer M, et al. Seasonal variations of plasma fibrinogen and factor VII activity in the elderly: winter infections and death from cardiovascular disease. Lancet 1994;343:435-39.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7508540
  4. Nichol KL, Nordin J, Mulloly J, et al. Influenza vaccination and reduction in hospitalization for cardiac disease and stroke among the elderly. N Engl J Med 2003; 348:1322-1332. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa025028
  5. Clar C, Oseni Z, Flowers N, et al. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005050.pub3h ttp://www.cochrane.org/CD005050/VASC_flu-vaccines-for-preventing-cardiovascular-disease  

 

 

 

 

Is there a seasonal variation in the incidence of cardiovascular (CV) events or venous thromboembolism (VTE)?

How do I interpret an elevated serum C-reactive protein (CRP) and normal erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or vice-versa?

 

Discordance between serum CRP and ESR is not uncommon (1,2). This phenomenon may be due to a variety of factors including the fact that the kinetics of these two tests is quite different, as discussed under “Should I order C-reactive protein (CRP) or erythrocyte sedimentation (ESR) on patients suspected of having a new infection?” in this blog.

In a study of CRP/ESR discordance (defined as results differing by 2 or 3 quartiles) in adults, a high CRP/low ESR profile was more likely to be associated with  urinary, GI, blood stream, and pulmonary infections, myocardial infarction, and venous thromboembolism and less likely to be associated with bone and joint infections (1).

In the same study, a high ESR/low CRP was associated with connective tissue diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus and strokes (1).

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References

1. Feldman M, Aziz B, Kang GN, et al. C-reactive protein and erythrocyte sedimentation rate discordance: frequency and causes in adults. Translational Research 2013;161:37-43. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22921838

2. Colombet I, Pouchot J, Kronz V. Agreement between erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein in hospital practice. Am J Med 2010;123:864.e7-863.e13.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20800157

How do I interpret an elevated serum C-reactive protein (CRP) and normal erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or vice-versa?

How should follow-up serum C-reactive protein (CRP) in patients with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) be interpreted?

CRP level should drop to less than one-half of its value on admission after a couple of days of antibiotic therapy, since CRP half-life is less than a day following zero order elimination kinetics. 
Of interest, in a study of serial CRP in severe CAP (1), a CRP ratio >0.5 by day 3 was associated with non-resolving pneumonia ( sensitivity 91%, specificity 55%)   performing significantly better than body temperature or WBC count.  
So if there is any doubt about how a patient is doing clinically, a repeat CRP looking for a drop of greater than on-half after 3-4 days of therapy may be helpful.

 

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that the half-life of CRP is 19 h?

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Reference

1. Coelho L, Povoa P, Almenda E, et al. Usefulness of C-reactive protein in monitoring the severe community-acquired pneumonia clinical course.  Critical Care 2007;11:R92 https://ccforum.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/cc6105

 


 

How should follow-up serum C-reactive protein (CRP) in patients with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) be interpreted?