Should my patient with cirrhosis and esophageal varices be considered for partial splenic embolization?

 

Although limited, the weight of the evidence suggests that patients with cirrhosis and esophageal varices may benefit from partial splenic embolization (PSE).

A 2006 small randomized-controlled trial comparing PSE and endoscopic ligation vs. endoscopic ligation alone in patients with cirrhosis, thrombocytopenia and esophageal varices reported reduced risk of recurrence of varices, progression to variceal bleeding and death over a mean follow-up of 4.8 years. 1

A 2016 meta-analysis of PSE in the management of gastroesophageal variceal hemorrhage arrived at a similar conclusion with respect to reducing the risk of recurrence of varices, variceal hemorrhage and mortality. 2 The studies included in this meta-analysis, however, were small with only 1 randomized-controlled trial (RCT) in the series.

A 2019 small retrospective of patients undergoing transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) placement with or without PSE found a significant benefit in primary shunt patency (period between placement and first shunt dysfunction), but not secondary shunt patency (period between placement and permanent shunt dysfunction) or mortality over a 5-year follow-up.3

Adverse effects of PSE include post-embolization syndrome—a constellation of symptoms such as fever, pain, and nausea/vomiting— reported in 78%-100% of patients. More severe complications up to 15%-30% may also occur with PSE, particularly when around 70% or more of splenic volume is embolized. These complications include pleural effusion/ascites, spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, pulmonary embolism, liver failure, portal vein thrombosis and splenic abscesses which may develop between 10 days to 3 months following the procedure.  Up to 6% of patients undergoing PSE may die of the procedure-related complications. 4-6  

For these reasons, careful selection of patient for PSE and limiting the extent of splenic necrosis to 50% with close monitoring of clinical and ultrasound follow-up, particularly in patients with a volume of splenic necrosis >50%,  have been suggested.6

 

Fun fact: Did you know that splenic embolization was first performed by Frank E. Maddison of Madison, Wisconsin, in 1973 using autologous clot to treat recurrent gastrointestinal hemorrhage arising from esophageal varies?

 

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References

 

  1. Ohmoto K, Yoshioka N, Tomiyama Y, et al. Improved prognosis of cirrhosis patients with esophageal varices and thrombocytopenia treated by endoscopic variceal ligation plus partial splenic embolization. Digestive Diseases and Sciences 2006;51:352-58. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10620-006-3137-8
  2. Wang P, Liu R, Tong L, et al. Partial splenic embolization has beneficial effects for the management of gastroesophageal variceal hemorrhage. Saudi J Gastroenterol 2016;22:399-406. http://europepmc.org/articles/PMC5184739/
  3. Wan Y-M, Li Y-H, Xu Z-Y, et al. Comparison of TIPS alone and combined with partial splenic embolization (PSE) for the management of variceal bleeding. European Radiology 2019; https://doi.org/10.100/s00330-019-06046-6
  4. N’Kontchou G, Seror O, Bourcier V, et al. Partial splenic embolization in patients with cirrhosis: efficacy, tolerance, and long-term outcome in 32 patients. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol 2005;17:179-84. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15674095
  5. Hadduck TA, McWilliams JP. Partial splenic artery embolization in cirrhotic patients. World J Radiol 2014;28:6:160-168. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4037542/
  6. Smith M, Ray CE. Splenic artery embolization as an adjunctive procedure for portal hypertension. Semin Intervent Radiol 2012;29:135-39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3444868/
  7. Maddison FE. Embolic therapy of hypersplenism. Invest Radiol 1973;8:280-281. https://journals.lww.com/investigativeradiology/Citation/1973/07000/Embolic_Therapy_of_Hypersplenism.54.aspx

 

Contributed in part by Theodore R. Pak, MD, PhD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.

Should my patient with cirrhosis and esophageal varices be considered for partial splenic embolization?

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 my patient with below-knee venous thrombosis receive anticoagulation?

In contrast to proximal lower extremity deep venous thrombosis for which anticoagulation (AC) is standard therapy, whether below-knee deep venous thrombosis (BKDVT) (eg,  involving peroneal, soleus, tibial, or gastrocnemius veins) should routinely receive AC is a matter of debate because of lack of solid supportive evidence. 1-3

The American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) recommends AC for patients with BKDVT who are severely symptomatic or have risk factors for extension of the thrombus but this recommendation is based on low-quality scientific evidence (grade 2C or “weak”).3 For other patients, surveillance ultrasound is recommended in 2 weeks to exclude clot propagation more proximally, and therefore the need for AC.  Of course, decision regarding AC should be made in the context of the patient’s risk of serious bleeding.

The following facts about BKDVT may help in therapeutic decision making:1

  • Most cases resolve spontaneously without AC
  • The incidence of propagation varies from 3%-32%
  • Embolization is unlikely in the absence of extension into proximal veins

Also remember that clot propagation usually occurs within 2 weeks of initial diagnosis. That’s why surveillance ultrasound is recommended during this period when watchful waiting is preferred.

References 

  1. Fleck D, Albadawi H, Wallace A, etal. Below-knee deep vein thrombosis (DVT): diagnostic and treatment patterns. Cariovasc Diagn Ther 2017;7(Suppl3):S134-39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5778527/
  2. Olson EJ, Zander AL, Van Gent J-M, et al. Below-knee deep vein thrombosis: An opportunity to prevent pulmonary embolism? J Trauma Acute Care Surg 2014;77:459-63. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25159251
  3. Kearon C, Akl EA, Comerota AJ, et al. Antithrombotic therapy for VTE disease. Antithrombotic therapy and prevention of thrombosis, 9th ed: American College of Chest Physicians evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. CHEST 2012;141 (Suppl):e419S-e494S. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22315268

 

Should my patient with below-knee venous thrombosis receive anticoagulation?

Is there any utility to laboratory testing for inherited thrombophilia or antiphospholipid syndrome in my hospitalized patient with unprovoked acute pulmonary embolism?

There is virtually no utility to obtaining heritable thrombophilia testing in acute hospital setting. In fact, there are potential harms due to false-positive and false-negative results which in turn may lead to increasing anxiety in the patient and added cost due to repeat testing.

As many tests obtained as part of this workup are functional assays—eg, the protein S, C, or antithrombin activity, and activated protein C resistance (often used to screen for factor V Leiden)— they are easily impacted by the physiologic effects of acute thrombosis as well as all anticoagulants.1

More importantly, testing for inherited thrombophilia will not impact management in the acute setting, as decisions regarding duration of anticoagulation are often made later in the outpatient setting. The proper time to evaluate the patient for inherited thrombophilias (if indicated) is at least one week following discontinuation of anticoagulation (minimum 3 months from the time of the index event). 2 

Testing for antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) may be considered in this setting though it should be noted that the lupus anticoagulant assay is impacted by nearly every anticoagulant, resulting in frequent false-positive results1, and therefore should be performed before initiation of these agents (or delayed until later if anticoagulation has already begun). A false-positive result has downstream implications as many patients with acute, uncomplicated venous thromboembolism (VTE) are discharged on a direct oral anticoagulant (DOAC), and antiphospholipid syndrome is currently considered a relative contraindication to the use of DOACs in VTE.

References
1. Moll, S. “Thrombophilia: Clinical-practical aspects.” J Thromb Thrombolysis 2015;39:367-78. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25724822
2. Connors JM. “Thrombophilia Testing and Venous Thrombosis.” N Engl J Med 2017; 377:1177-1187. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1700365 

Contributed by Hanny Al-Samkari, MD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA

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Is there any utility to laboratory testing for inherited thrombophilia or antiphospholipid syndrome in my hospitalized patient with unprovoked acute pulmonary embolism?

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 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?

My patient with pulmonary embolism also reports new-onset hiccups. Are the two conditions related?

Hiccups (AKA singultus) are due to the involuntary contraction of the inspiratory muscles, especially the diaphragm. The hiccup reflex involves an afferent limb ( eg, the phrenic and vagus nerves, sympathetic fibers from T6-T12,  brainstem) and an efferent limb, primarily the phrenic nerve1,2.  Thus, the irritation of any part of the arc in the head, neck, chest, or abdomen may potentially lead to hiccups.

Conditions involving the chest cavity that may be associated with hiccups include lung cancer, GERD, herpetic esophagitis, myocardial ischemia, bronchitis, empyema, lung masses, pneumonia, pleuritis, and pacemaker lead injury 1-3.

Reports of patients with PE and persistent hiccups (lasting longer than 48 h) have also appeared in the literature1,3. Of interest, in a report involving 3 patients, 2 had submassive or “large” PE, with one displaying the classic EKG changes of S1Q3T3; the size of PE in another was not reported1.  In another case report, PE was “not small” and involved the anterior and lateral lower lobe segments of pulmonary artery2.  Although the exact mechanism of PE causing hiccups is not clear, irritation of the afferent or efferent limb of the reflex arc in the chest has been postulated.  

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References

  1. Hassen GW, Singh MM, Kalantari H, et al. Persistent hiccups as a rare presenting symptom of pulmonary embolism. West J Emerg Med 202;13:479-483.
  2. Durning SJ, Shaw DJ, Oliva AJ et al. Persistent hiccups as the presenting symptom of a pulmonary embolism. Chest Disease Reports 2012;2:e2.
  3. Buyukhatipoglu H, Sezen Y, Yildiz A, et al. Hiccups as a sign of chronic myocardial ischemia. S Med J 2010;103: 1184-85.
My patient with pulmonary embolism also reports new-onset hiccups. Are the two conditions related?

Should I routinely consider the possibility of pulmonary embolism (PE) in my patients hospitalized for syncope?

Syncope is a well-known initial manifestation of pulmonary embolism (PE)1.  However, given the varied causes of syncope, determining the prevalence of PE among patients hospitalized for syncope is important.   

A multicenter prospective study2 enrolled 560 patients not already on anticoagulation who were hospitalized for a first episode syncope.  Of patients who had either a high pretest probability for PE, positive D-dimer assay or both, PE was diagnosed in 17%, or nearly 1 of 6 of enrolled patients, based on CT or ventilation/perfusion scan. PE was found more frequently among patients with syncope of undetermined cause than those with an alternative explanation (25.4% vs 12.7%). 

Another multicenter prospective study (2019), however, found a much lower prevalence of PE (0.6%) among patients evaluated in the ED for syncope, including those who were not hospitalized.3 A related commentary on the article reported a prevalence of 4.1% in the total study population, assuming a “worst-case scenario calculation.” 4 

Given these divergent results, perhaps the best advice is to consider PE as cause of syncope in the proper context and minimize over testing when suspicion remains low.

 

References 

  1. Thames MD, Alpert JS, Dalen JE. Syncope in patients with pulmonary embolism. JAMA 1977;238:2509-2511. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/578884
  2. Prandoni P, Lensing AWA, Prins MH, et al. Prevalence of pulmonary embolism among patients hospitalized for syncope. N Engl J Med 2016;375:1524-31. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1602172
  3. Thiruganasambandamoorthy V, Sivilotti MLA, Rowe BH, et al. Prevalence of pulmonary embolism among emergency department patients with syncope: a multicenter prospective cohort study [published online January 25, 2019]. Ann Emerg Med. doi:10.106/j.annemergmed.2018. https://www.annemergmed.com/article/S0196-0644(18)31535-X/fulltext
  4. Anonymous. Pulmonary embolism uncommon in syncope hospitalizations. Pulmonology Advisor. February 6, 2019.  https://www.pulmonologyadvisor.com/pulmonary-embolism-uncommon-in-syncope-hospitalizations/printarticle/832069/

 

Contributed in part by Rebecca Berger  MD, Department of Medicine, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA

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Should I routinely consider the possibility of pulmonary embolism (PE) in my patients hospitalized for syncope?

My patient with significant dyspnea appears to have an acute exacerbation of his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (AE-COPD). How often do AE-COPD and pulmonary embolism (PE) coexist?

Simultaneous presence of PE in patients with AE-COPD is not rare, particularly in those with unexplained AE-COPD. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis reported a pooled PE prevalence of 16.1% (95% C.I. 8.3%-25.8%) in unexplained AE-COPD, with 68% of emboli found in the main pulmonary arteries, lobar arteries or inter-lobar arteries (i.e. not subsegmental); the pooled prevalence of deep venous thrombosis (DVT) was 10.5% (95% C.I. 4.3%-19.0%) 1. Pleuritic chest pain and signs of cardiac failure were associated with AE-COPD, while symptoms suggestive of a respiratory tract infection argued against PE.

It remains unclear, however, if the threshold for evaluation of venous thromboembolism (VTE) should necessarily differ between patients with explained vs unexplained AE-COPD. In one small study, the prevalence of VTE in “unexplained” AE-COPD was significantly higher (25%) than “explained” AE-COPD (including cases with  tracheobronchitis, pneumonia, cardiac disorders, exposure to irritant inhalants, and lack of compliance with treatment), but the VTE prevalence for the latter group was still 8.4%2.  Serum D-dimer level and Wells criteria may help exclude VTE in this patient population.

References

  1. Aleva FE, Voets LWLM, Simons SO, et al. Prevalence and localization of pulmonary embolism in unexplained acute exacerbations of COPD: A systematic review and meta-analysis. CHEST (2016), doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2016.07.034.
  2. Gunen H, Gulbas G, In E, Yetkin O, Hacievliyagil SS. Venous thromboemboli and exacerbations of COPD. Eur Respir J 2010;35:1243-1248.

 

Contributed by Jeff Greenwald, MD, Core Educator Faculty, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital

My patient with significant dyspnea appears to have an acute exacerbation of his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (AE-COPD). How often do AE-COPD and pulmonary embolism (PE) coexist?

What complication of Behçet’s syndrome carries the highest mortality?

Behçet’s syndrome may cause life-threatening hemoptysis due to pulmonary artery aneurysms.1 In a cohort of 387  patients with such syndrome followed for over 20 years, massive hemoptysis was the leading cause of death, found most commonly early in the course of the disease among young men.2 Conversely, the one-year mortality of pulmonary artery aneurysm in Behçet’s may be greater than 50%.1 Behçet’s syndrome is the only vasculitic disease with a proclivity for large pulmonary vessels, while its less frequent pulmonary manifestations, such as fibrosis and thrombosis, overlap with other small vessel vasculitides.3 Beware that the initial presentation of pulmonary aneurysm rupture may be confused with that of pulmonary embolism, with potential for fatal complications from anticoagulation.1 CT angiogram should help in distinguishing the two conditions.

 

References 

  1. Uzun O, Akpolat T, Erkan L. Pulmonary vasculitis in behcet disease: a cumulative analysis. Chest. 2005;127(6):2243-2253.
  2. Kural-Seyahi E, Fresko I, Seyahi N, et al. The long-term mortality and morbidity of Behçet syndrome: a 2-decade outcome survey of 387 patients followed at a dedicated center. Medicine (Baltimore). 2003;82(1):60-76.
  3. Hamuryudan V, Er T, Seyahi E, et al. Pulmonary artery aneurysms in Behçet syndrome. Am J Med. 2004;117(11):867-870.

 

Contributed by Sam Slavin, Harvard Medical Student

What complication of Behçet’s syndrome carries the highest mortality?