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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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.
2. Huffman JL, Schenker S. Acute acalculous cholecystitis: A review. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2010;8:15-22.
3. Hakala T, Nuutinene PJO, Ruokonen ET, et al. Microangiopathy in acute acalculous cholecystitis Br J Surg 1997;84:1249-52.
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.
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.  
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.
7. Simoes AS, Marinhas A, Coelho P, et al. Acalculous acute cholecystitis during the course of an enteroviral infection. BMJ Case Rep 2013;12.
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.



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

My patient with inferior myocardial infarction with Q-waves 2 years ago now has no evidence of Q waves on his EKG. Can Q-waves from myocardial infarction really regress over time?

Short answer: Yes! Q-waves may regress following transmural myocardial infarction (ATMI) and in fact this phenomenon may not be as unusual as once thought, occurring in 7-15% of patients (1,2).

A prospective study involving patients with ATMI evaluated by coronary angiography and followed for an average of 65 months found an 11% rate of loss of Q-waves over an average of 14 months after ATMI. Factors associated with loss of Q-waves included lower peak creatine kinase values, lower left ventricular end-diastolic pressures, higher ejection fractions, fewer ventricular aneurysms and lower rate of congestive heart failure, all leading to the authors’ conclusion that Q-wave loss may be related to a smaller infarct size (1).

Similar findings were reported from patients enrolled in the Aspirin Myocardial Infarction Study with a loss of a previously documented diagnostic Q-wave confirmed in 14.2% of participants over an average of 38 months. Mortality among patients who lost Q-waves was not significantly different than among those with persistent Q-waves in a single infarct location (2).

These observations suggest that Q-waves in the setting of ATMI may not necessarily be pathognomonic of myocardial necrosis and, at least in some instances, may be due to tissue ischemia, edema and inflammation causing reversible myocardial and electrical stunning (3). Of interest, reversible Q-waves have also been reported in acute myocarditis (4).

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that the EKG waves P and Q were likely named by Einthoven, the inventor of EKG, after the designation of the same letters by Descartes, the father of analytical geometry, in describing refraction points? (5). 


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1. Coll S, Betriu A, De Flores T, et al. Significance of Q-wave regression after transmural acute myocardial infarction. Am J Cardiol 1988;61:739-42.
2. Wasserman AG, Bren GB, Ross AM, et al. Prognostic implications of diagnostic Q waves after myocardial infarction. Circulation 1982;65:1451-55.
3. Barold SS, Falkoff MD, Ong LS, et al. Significance of transient electrocardiographic Q waves in coronary artery disease. Cardiol Clin 1987;5:367-80.
4. Dalzell JR, Jackson CE, Gardner RS. Masquerade: Fulminant viral myocarditis mimicking a Q-wave anterolateral myocardial infarction. Am J Med 2009. Doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2009.01.015.

5. Hurst, JW.  Naming of the waves in the ECG, with a brief account of their genesis. Circulation 1998;98:1937-42. 


My patient with inferior myocardial infarction with Q-waves 2 years ago now has no evidence of Q waves on his EKG. Can Q-waves from myocardial infarction really regress over time?

Why was the myocardial infarction in my postop patient silent?

Myocardial infarction (MI) in postop patients is in fact usually silent (1,2) but what is less clear is how myocardial ischemia can occur without any symptoms.

Although use of analgesics and narcotics postop may dampen or mask chest pain or other symptoms associated with MI, other factors are also likely to play an important role, such as decreased sensitivity to painful stimuli, autonomic neuropathy (eg, in diabetes mellitus), and higher pain threshold among some patients (3).

Additional factors associated with silent MIs include cerebral cortical dysfunction since frontal cortical activation appears to be necessary to experience cardiac pain. Mental stress is also a frequent trigger for asymptomatic myocardial ischemia, infarction and sudden cardiac death (4).  High levels of beta-endorphin, an endogenous opiate, may also play a role (5).

Perhaps the most intriguing explanation for lack of symptoms is the observation that the levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines (interleukin-4 and -10)—which block pain transmission pathways and increase the threshold for nerve activation—seem to be increased in patients with silent myocardial ischemia (6).  Even more relevant to our postop patient is the finding that interleukin-10 production increases during and after major abdominal surgery and correlates with the amount of intraoperative blood loss (7). 

No wonder MIs in postop patients are often silent!

1. Devereaux PJ, Xavier D, Pogue J, et al. Characteristics nd short-term prognosis of perioperative myocardial infarction in patients undergoing noncardiac surgery: a cohort study. Ann Intern Med 2011;154:523-8. 
2. Badner NH, Knill RL, Brown JE, et al. Myocardial infarction after noncardiac surgery. Anesthesiology 1998;88:572-78.
3. Ahmed AH, Shankar KJ, Eftekhari H, et al. Silent myocardial ischemia:current perspectives and future directions. Exp Clin Cardiol 2007;12:189-96. 
4. Gullette EC, Blumenthal JA, Babyak M, et al. Effects of mental stress on myocardial ischemia during daily life. JAMA 1997;277:1521-6.
5. Hikita H, Kurita A, Takase B, et al. Re-examination of the roles of beta-endorphin and cardiac autonomic function in exercise-induced silent myocardial ischemia. Ann Noninvasive Electrocardiol 1997;2:319-25.
6. Mazzone A, Cusa C, Mazzucchelli I, et al. Increased production of inflammatory cytokines in patients with silent myocardial ischemia. J Am Coll Cardiol 2001;38:1895-901.
7. Kato M, Honda I, Suzuki H, et al. Interleukin-10 production during and after upper abdominal surgery. J Clin Anesth 1998;10:184-8. 

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Why was the myocardial infarction in my postop patient silent?

Why should I pay attention to the augmented vector right (aVR) EKG lead in my patient with chest pain?

Lead aVR is often “neglected” because of its non-adjacent location to other EKG leads (Fig 1) and poor awareness of its potential utility in detecting myocardial ischemia.

In acute coronary syndrome (ACS), ST-elevation (STE) in aVR (≥1mm) with diffuse ST depression in other leads (Fig 2) is usually a sign of severe left main coronary artery (LMCA), proximal left anterior descending (LAD), or 3-vessel coronary disease, and is associated with poor prognosis1-3.  In some patients with LMCA thrombosis, the EKG changes may be non-specific but STE in aVR should still raise suspicion for ischemia1.  Possible mechanisms for STE in aVR include diffuse anterolateral subendocardial ischemia or transmural infarction of the basal portion of the heart. 

The possibility of an anatomical variant of the Purkinje fibers leading to the absence of STE in the anterior leads in some patients with transmural anterior infarction is another reason to pay attention to aVR.


Fig 1. Standard EKG limb leads. Note that aVR is “in the fringes”.


Fig 2. 35 year old female with ACS due to LMCA spasm. Note STE in aVR with ST segment depression in leads V3-6, I, aVL, II, and aVF  (Courtesy National Library of Medicine)


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  1. Kossaify A. ST segment elevation in aVR: clinical syndrome in acute coronary syndrome. Clin Med Insights: Case Reports 2013:6.
  2. Kireyev D, Arkhipov MV, Zador ST. Clinical utility of aVR-the neglected electrocardiographic lead. Ann Noninvasive Electrocardiol 2010;15:175-180.
  3. Wong –CK, Gao W, Stewart RAH, et al. aVR ST elevation: an important but neglected sign in ST elevation acute myocardial infarction. Eur Heart J 2010;31:1845-1853.
  4. De Winter RJ, Verouden NJ, Wellens HJ, et al. A new ECG sign of proximal LAD occlusion. N Engl J Med 2008;359:2071-3.


Why should I pay attention to the augmented vector right (aVR) EKG lead in my patient with chest pain?