100 Cases in Acute Medicine

100 Cases in Acute Medicine presents 100 acute conditions commonly seen by medical students and junior doctors in the emergency department, or on the ward, or in the community setting. A succinct summary of the patient’s history, examination, and initial investigations, including photographs where relevant, is followed by questions on the diagnosis and management of each case. The answer includes a detailed discussion of each topic, with further illustration where appropriate, providing an essential revision aid as well as a practical guide for students and junior doctors.

Making clinical decisions and choosing the best course of action is one of the most challenging and difficult parts of training to become a doctor. These cases will teach students and junior doctors to recognize important clinical symptoms and signs, and to develop their diagnostic and management skills.”


The book is quite simple. There are 100 medical cases. Each case has a brief description of symptoms and what we know about the patient, plus a couple of questions. On the next page of the book there are then answers to the questions posed with (semi-?)detailed explanations. In many cases one of, or perhaps the only question, is: ‘what’s wrong with this person?’, but sometimes the management aspect is considered to be the key variable (‘obese hypertensive and hyperlipidemic type 2 diabetic with previous MI has just been admitted with cardiac symptoms. Here are the results of his blood-work and an ECG. How do you proceed?’ – not a quote, but close enough…), and in such cases there are e.g. questions about which particular aspects of this presentation you should be most concerned about, or perhaps an open question related to aspects such as how to optimize the follow-up process. I’ll never diagnose anyone with anything or set up a medical management plan, as that is for doctors to do, but I thought it looked like an interesting book, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Reading a book like this is a little bit like watching House, except that the medicine in here is actually trustworthy and you avoid all the drama (I know that I have remarked upon how reading medical textbooks will change your viewing experience of medical dramas before, but in the context of this book that particular aspect seems perhaps even more relevant than usual – all the patients in this book have presented to the ER because they are sick and we are told about their symptoms and perhaps some of the test results which have come back from the lab; this setting, I believe, is pretty much the default setting for medical dramas…).

The blog currently has 118 posts related to the topic of medicine so I have read some stuff and watched some lectures on these topics; I figured it’d be interesting to see if I could figure out some of the cases, and I felt reasonably sure I’d learn from both the ones I could figure out and the ones I couldn’t (as I considered them likely to add details I didn’t know, e.g. about differential diagnoses, in the anwers). I also thought more generally that it’d be nice to have a book with some ‘common/standard’ health complaint cases presented. Diagnostics is often more difficult than you’d think from reading about specific diseases, because people in many cases don’t present with all the textbook symptoms, and because certain symptoms present in a lot of very different situations. A confused old person with altered mental status might for example ‘just’ be dehydrated with nothing else going on (severe dehydration can be quite dangerous, thus the ‘just’) – but it could also be a brain tumour, or a subarachnoid hemorrhage, or a urinary tract infection (“Elderly people, particularly females, are more prone to urinary tract infections and often present with confusion”), or… Severe abdominal pain and vomiting in a young person isn’t always appendicitis; this book had a young woman with familial Mediterranean fever present that way.

There were more than a few cases where I ‘got it right’, including some quite obscure ones like a case of Stevens-Johnson syndrome (-SJS – this one is really rare, something like 1 in 200.000 rare – I only guessed it because I read the wiki on that one a while back and it stuck) and a patient with an insulinoma (this one also has a very low incidence, “estimated at 1 to 4 new cases per million persons per year” – my knowledge of diabetes helped here, as did my recall of the coverage of this condition in McPhee et al (at least I think that was where I read about it). There were quite a few more common ones I got right, for example cases of pre-eclampsia (Hall covered that one in quite a bit of detail, so I had no problems figuring out what was going on there), mumps, diabetic ketoacidosis, hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state (I found it interesting that they included both a DKA case and a HHS case, and/but I had of course no problem recognizing either of these), malaria, alcohol withdrawal syndrome (obvious from the patient history, but not if you don’t know about the risk of seizures and -progression to DT associated with alcohol withdrawal – which the patient obviously didn’t…), Lyme disease, trypanosomiasis (well, I couldn’t remember that that’s what it was called, but I did guess ‘sleeping sickness’, which is good enough, I think – though of course I’d have no idea how to treat someone with that disease…), anorexia nervosa, and pulmonary oedema. There were a lot of them I didn’t get right or didn’t know the answer to, which is in a way to be expected (the insulinoma and SJS cases were not the only quite rare ones – who’s ever heard about Goodpasture syndrome anyway?). In more than a few cases you need, in order to get the diagnosis right, to be able to read and understand the results of an electrocardiogram, a CT scan, an MRI or a chest X-ray; I’ve seen these before in textbooks, but I’ve never received formal training in interpreting them – however at least in the case of the pulmonary oedema the X-ray results were obvious. ‘He’s having a heart attack’ was a sort of a diagnosis in a couple of cases, but not what they were going for – if they thought his heart was fine they probably wouldn’t have asked the lab for troponin levels or ordered an ECG..

I have added some observations from the book below, most of them from the ‘answer sections’. As I didn’t assume anyone reading along here would be likely to read the book later on I have not tried very hard to avoid ‘spoilers’:

“[Neurocysticercosis] is the most common parasitic infection of the central nervous system and the leading cause of adult-onset seizures in the developing world.”

“Mumps is the most common cause of unilateral acquired sensorineural hearing loss in children and young adults worldwide […] Suspect mumps in a patient who presents with parotitis and fever.” (I did. The included vaccination history helped.).

“A 19-year-old woman has presented to the emergency department complaining of fevers and malaise after returning from a holiday in South Africa two weeks earlier. Over the preceding 3–4 days she noticed a rash and sore throat and is now feeling generally tired and unwell. She has no significant medical history and does not take any regular medications or recreational drugs. She does not smoke, nor drink alcohol. She admits to several episodes of unprotected sexual intercourse with a man she met in South Africa.”

My first thought when reading the case history above: Immediate psychiatric consult and an IQ test. If you’re having unprotected sex with a South African whom you don’t know well on multiple occasions you’re either insane or a moron. More seriously, this one was one of several really depressing presentations. There were ways to make the patient history even worse (‘when she came back to receive the results of her (positive) HIV test she mentioned during the followup that she’d been gaining a bit of weight lately and that she had been feeling nauseous occasionally, especially during the morning hours…’), but this was quite bad enough. Do note however that there could be other explanations for her illness than just HIV, and that these should be considered as well: “This woman is likely to have a viral illness, considering her history of fevers, rash and sore throat. Infectious mononucleosis (glandular fever) secondary to Epstein–Barr virus is a common illness in young adults, presenting with fever, rash and lymphadenopathy following on from a sore throat.”

“Urinary tract infections can often present with non-specific symptoms, such as confusion and general malaise, particularly in elderly patients. […] Early treatment according to the Surviving Sepsis protocol is key to ensuring patients have the best chance of surviving a serious infection.”

I include this one at least in part because people reading my comments above about confusion perhaps being the result of a urinary tract infection may have thought that ‘okay, so not all of these cases are all that severe’, as a urinary tract infection is probably perceived of as belonging on ‘the opposite side of the scale’ as brain cancer. In the specific case that would be an incorrect way to think about the situation: “The patient is haemodynamically unstable […] The patient’s daughter should be informed that her mother is very unwell and may not survive.” Yes, this was another one of the depressing ones. Here’s a related quote from another case: “Most women will experience a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some time in their life, so education towards UTI prevention is important (e.g. wipe from front to back after a bowel movement or after urinating, and try to empty the bladder before and after sexual intercourse).”

“Tuberculosis should be suspected in anyone presenting with shortness of breath, fever, haemoptysis and weight loss. […] An important differential diagnosis to consider is lung malignancy.”

“Alcohol misuse increases the risk of intracerebral bleeds, because head injury is more likely to be sustained or as a result of deranged liver function. Sustained alcohol misuse can lead to deranged liver function and therefore reduced production of vitamin K, which is essential for normal blood clotting properties. […] Seizures are a common way for patients with alcohol withdrawal to present.”

“In patients who are vomiting and develop signs of a chest infection, an aspiration pneumonia should be considered.”

“Angiodysplasia is a condition where the small vessels in the bowel are dilated, very fragile and prone to bleeding. […] Angiodysplasia of the colon is the second most common cause of GI bleeding in patients over the age of 60 years (diverticular disease being the most common in that age group). The most common presentation is intermittent bleeding without pain.”

“There are common steps in the management of acute intoxication and poisoning. As with most medical emergencies, the airway, breathing and circulation (ABC) should be assessed and managed appropriately in the first instance. Neurological examinations should be carried out to look for lateralizing and/or cerebellar signs. It is also important to examine for abnormal ocular movements and papillary changes as it helps to give clues to the common drugs/toxins involved. […] Often a ‘drug screen’ is requested but this is rarely necessary. A typical drug screen is expensive and difficult to interpret. The results may take 1–2 weeks to become available and it is not possible to screen for all possible toxins. Therefore it does not alter immediate patient management in most instances. Neuroimaging, such as CT of brain, is only necessary when patients are suspected to have a structural brain lesion or significant head injury. A provoked seizure from poisoning or substance abuse does not necessitate neuroimaging in most circumstances. […] In most cases the treatment of poisonings requires supportive therapy only as specific antidotes are often not available.” (ABC arguably isn’t enough – in a different answer they add on D and E as well:) “The approach to any critically ill person should start with ABCDE (airway, breathing, circulation, disability, exposure). Each step should consist of an assessment and appropriate management before moving on to subsequent stages. This approach is a logical way of thinking through and dealing with an acutely ill person.”

“[Anorexia nervosa] is a psychiatric diagnosis characterized by a refusal to maintain normal weight for age and height, a fear of gaining weight, body image distortion and amenorrhoea. There are other subtypes, which include ‘restricting’ calorie intake, or ‘binge eating/purging’ behaviours which can include laxative, diuretic or enema use. She has evidence of a low bodyweight (formal diagnosis relies on an ideal body weight <85 per cent, body mass index <17.5 kg/m2). Her body image perception is altered. […] Most people with anorexia nervosa are female, with the onset highest during late adolescence.”

“IgA [Immunoglobulin A] nephropathy is the most common glomerular disease worldwide. It occurs most commonly in those of Asian or Caucasian origin and is more common in males (2:1). Most cases occur between the ages of 20 and 30. Most cases are sporadic and the cause is not identified, but it tends to occur following an upper respiratory tract infection or gastrointestinal infection. […] Cases can present in several ways. About half of all cases present as in this case with frank haematuria and flank pain after an upper respiratory tract infection. A third of patients can present with asymptomatic microscopic haematuria. Ten per cent of patients can present with a more severe process characterized by either the nephrotic syndrome or an acute rapidly progressive glomerulonephritis (oedema, hypertension, haematuria and renal failure).”

“Atrial fibrillation becomes more common with increasing age such that more than 10 per cent of those aged over 80 years have AF. The most common causes of AF are hypertension, heart failure, ischaemic heart disease and valvular disease. Hyperthyroidism is another cause and may not have obvious clinical signs in the elderly. […] Stroke risk can be estimated from a score (CHA2DS2VASc: Congestive heart failure, Hypertension, Age ≥75 (doubled), Diabetes, Stroke (doubled), Vascular disease, Age 65–74, and Sex category (female) […] A score of 2 predicts a 2.2 per cent per year adjusted stroke risk […] This is generally accepted to be the cut-off to starting treatment with an oral anticoagulant provided there are no contraindications. […] The main concern with anticoagulants is the risk of bleeding and an assessment of this risk should be made prior to starting treatment. A bleeding risk score such as HAS-BLED can be used to assess risk […] Warfarin is still the anticoagulant of choice.”

“The incidence of stroke after thrombolysis is around 1–1.5 per cent and most strokes occur within five days of the MI, with most cases of haemorrhage within 24 hours of MI and thrombolysis.”

This is a risk it makes sense to be aware of – lots of people die from MIs and understanding the details of the risks involved when treating these may in some cases be helpful; if a person dies from a hemorrhagic stroke shortly after receiving treatment for an MI, this should not be considered a major indication that the doctors screwed up. Medical science has advanced a lot over the years, but ‘the anticoagulant of choice’ they talk about above is rat poison so do be careful not to overestimate how much doctors can really do for you if you get sick.

“In the setting of a positive family history of early death due to chest disease and a history of deranged liver function tests, one should […] consider α1-antitrypsin deficiency. α1-Antitrypsin deficiency (A1AD) is a disease which has various phenotypes […] It is one of the most commonly inherited genetic disorders. […] The severity of lung disease differs even in siblings with the same allele. This is partially explained by environmental factors such as smoking and dust exposure; therefore it is paramount to educate patients with α1-antitrypsin deficiency not to smoke.” (yep, you guessed it – the patient was a smoker. Despite having been diagnosed with COPD 3 years earlier. Again, depressing.)

“CURB 65 is one of the most commonly used tools for assessment of community-acquired pneumonia severity. It is a useful adjunct but should not replace thorough clinical assessment. CURB 65 stands for: C = confusion; U = Urea ≥7 mmol/L; R = Respiratory rate >30/min; B = Blood pressure systolic <90 or diastolic <60 mmHg; 65 = age ≥65 years. Mortality approaches 83 per cent if all four CURB components are present. […] Most if not all atypical pneumonias present with classical pneumonic symptoms (fever, productive cough and shortness of breath), so it is hard to differentiate clinically. Atypical pneumonia is a term used to describe pneumonia caused by (i) Mycoplasma pneumoniae, (ii) Chlamydophila pneumoniae, (iii) Chlamydophila psittaci, (iv) Coxiella burnetii, (v) Legionella spp, or (vi) Francisella tularensi [I talked about this last one before, in a completely different context…]. The term ‘atypical pneumonia’ remains useful to describe these pathogens as their treatment and sometimes duration of antibiotic therapy is different from typical pathogens.”

“Subdural haematomas are bleeds that occur between the dura mater and the arachnoid mater, enveloping the brain. They usually develop following traumatic injury […] Older people are particularly prone to such injuries as the brain naturally atrophies and shrinks with age. Blood collects in the space and draws in water due to osmotic pressures. The area of bleeding increases in size, causing compression of the cerebral tissue. […] Cushing’s triad of systolic hypertension with a wide pulse pressure, bradycardia and irregular or rapid respiratory rate is a major sign of raised intracranial pressure. These features occur due to insufficient blood flow to the brain and compression of arterioles. Subacute and chronic subdural haematomas classically present days to weeks after the insult. Any patient who presents with neurological signs several days after a head injury should be investigated for a subdural bleed.”

“Fever, jaundice and right upper quadrant abdominal pain make up the Charcot’s triad which are the main signs and symptoms of acute cholangitis. If a patient presents with Charcot’s triad and altered mental status and shock, it is called Reynold’s pentad. […] The most common cause of acute cholangitis is gallstone disease. […] Acute cholangitis carries a high mortality.”

I liked the book and gave it three stars on goodreads.


June 6, 2014 - Posted by | Books, Cardiology, Diabetes, Infectious disease, Medicine, Neurology

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: