Question Of The Day #38

question of the day
251 - Gallbladder stone with thickened wall
Which of the following is the most likely cause for this patient’s condition?

This patient presents to the emergency department with upper abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. The physical exam demonstrates fever, tachycardia, and focal right upper quadrant abdominal tenderness. Differential diagnoses to consider include cholecystitis, choledocholithiasis, cholangitis, hepatitis, pancreatitis, and ruptured peptic ulcer. The ultrasound image provided shows a thickened gallbladder wall (>4mm) and a gallstone present. See the labeled image below.

Signs of acute cholecystitis on ultrasound include a thickened gallbladder wall, pericholecystic fluid (anechoic (black) fluid around gallbladder), the presence of a gallstone (hyperechoic (white) with posterior shadowing), sonographic Murphy sign (tenderness when the transducer is pressed into gallbladder), and a dilated gallbladder. This patient has some but not all sonographic signs of cholecystitis. However, the age, obese body habitus, fever, and location of the pain support a diagnosis of acute cholecystitis (Choice B). Treatment of acute cholecystitis involves IV hydration, parenteral pain management and antiemetics, IV antibiotics, and surgical consultation for cholecystectomy. Biliary colic (Choice A) is less likely given the ultrasound findings and fever on exam. If the patient’s vital signs were normal and the ultrasound showed gallstones with no other sonographic signs of cholecystitis, biliary colic would be more likely. Gastritis (Choice C) does not cause fever or the sonographic signs illustrated above. Gallstones are the most common cause of pancreatitis (Choice D), but there is focal tenderness over the gallbladder in the right upper quadrant. Additional findings, such as an elevated lipase level, pain that radiates to the back, or a history of alcohol abuse would make pancreatitis a more likely diagnosis. Correct Answer: B


Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #38," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, May 7, 2021,, date accessed: September 27, 2023

A 35-year-old female with abdominal discomfort

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A 35-year-old woman presents to the emergency department with right upper quadrant pain of two hours duration. She awoke several hours after eating a large meal. Based on increasing pain and nausea she presents for evaluation. She denies vomiting, fever or dysuria.
Her past history is notable for diet-controlled type II diabetes, dyslipidemia, and essential hypertension. Her BMI is 33. Her only medication is lisinopril 10 mg daily. She has never had surgery. Her social history is unremarkable. She neither drinks alcohol nor uses tobacco. She has begun to diet and reports recent weight loss.

Her temperature is 37ºC, blood pressure: 110 / 70 mm Hg, pulse: 90 beats per minute. Physical exam reveals an overweight female in mild distress secondary to right upper quadrant pain. She cannot find a position of comfort and describes the pain as similar to labor pains. Pertinent exam findings include: chest exam normal, cardiac exam normal, abdominal exam demonstrates normal bowel sounds and no rebound in any quadrant. She has guarding to inspiration with palpation over the gallbladder which called positive Murphy’s sign. Rectal exam normal, stool is hemoccult negative for blood.

Pertinent lab values: glucose 110 mg/dL, alkaline phosphatase 120 U/L, alanine aminotransferase (A.L.T.) 25 U/L, aspartate aminotransferase (A.S.T.) 25 U/L, gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT) 20 U/L, direct bilirubin 0.1 mg/dL, total bilirubin 0.5 mg/dL, lipase 20 U/L.

The emergency physician performs a focused right upper quadrant ultrasound and finds gallstones without associated gallbladder wall thickening or pericholecystic fluid. In addition, the patient has a “sonographic Murphy sign”: there is maximal abdominal tenderness when the ultrasound probe is pressed over the visualized gallbladder.

57 - Gallstones

An I.V. was established, and the patient received an isotonic fluid bolus. In addition, ketorolac 30 mg I.V. and ondansetron 4 mg I.V. were administered.
Over the course of an hour symptoms resolved. Absent evidence of gallbladder inflammation or infection, she was discharged from the emergency department and referred to a general surgeon for elective cholecystectomy. She was advised that her pain might return but if it is prolonged, is associated with fever or jaundice she is to return to the emergency department.

by Dan O'Brien from USA.