SAEM Clinical Images Series: Blue is Bad

66 year-old-male with a history of type 2 diabetes and hypertension presented as a transfer for rapid progression of lower extremity pain, swelling, and blue-purple discoloration of the entire limb with concern for a possible necrotizing infection. His symptoms began earlier in the day and progressed over just a few hours. He had no known thromboembolic risk factors.

MSK: Swollen, tender, and blue/purple-colored right lower extremity

Complete Blood Count (CBC): WBC 8.7; Hb 15; Hct 45; Plt 172

Glucose: 472

Severe venous thromboembolism (VTE), also known as Phlegmasia Cerulea Dolens, which means “painful blue inflammation”, is commonly seen with a unilateral exquisitely tender, swollen, and bluish/purple-colored lower extremity.

Phlegmasia Cerulea Dolens has a high amputation rate secondary to venous gangrene or compartment syndrome. If no pulse is noted on exam, a high suspicion for compartment syndrome must be maintained.

Take-Home Points

  • Phlegmasia Cerulea Dolens is a rare ischemic complication of massive venous thromboembolism with amputation and mortality rates as high as 50% and 40% respectively.
  • Phlegmasia Cerulea Dolens tends to affect the iliofemoral segment of the lower extremities and is commonly associated with malignancy.
  • The preferred imaging modality is doppler ultrasound. Management includes limb elevation, IV fluids, and either systemic anti-coagulation, catheter-directed thrombolysis, and/or thrombectomy.

  • Bazan HA, Reiner E, Sumpio B. Management of bilateral phlegmasia cerulea dolens in a patient with subacute splenic laceration. Ann Vasc Dis. 2008;1(1):45-8. doi: 10.3400/avd.AVDcr07002. Epub 2008 Feb 15. PMID: 23555338; PMCID: PMC3610218.
  • Chaochankit W, Akaraborworn O. Phlegmasia Cerulea Dolens with Compartment Syndrome. Ann Vasc Dis. 2018 Sep 25;11(3):355-357. doi: 10.3400/ PMID: 30402189; PMCID: PMC6200621.
  • Gardella L, Faulk J. Phlegmasia Alba And Cerulea Dolens. 2022 Oct 3. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan–. PMID: 33085284.
  • Said A, Sahlieh A, Sayed L. A comparative analysis of the efficacy and safety of therapeutic interventions in phlegmasia cerulea dolens. Phlebology. 2021 Jun;36(5):392-400. doi: 10.1177/0268355520975581. Epub 2020 Nov 25. PMID: 33236674.
  • Schroeder M, Shorette A, Singh S, Budhram G. Phelgmasia Cerulea Dolens Diagnosed by Point-of-Care Ultrasound. Clin Pract Cases Emerg Med. 2017 Mar 13;1(2):104-107. doi: 10.5811/cpcem.2016.12.32716. PMID: 29849409; PMCID: PMC5965407.

SAEM Clinical Images Series: Insidiously Contracted Hand


A 64-year-old Caucasian male with a history of alcohol use disorder and tobacco use disorder presents with painless bilateral hand contractures that have been worsening for the past several months. He denies any recent trauma, fever, chills, or decreased sensation. The patient works as a construction worker.

Vitals: BP 143/83 ; HR 94; RR 18; T 98.6°F; O2 saturation 98% on room air

Musculoskeletal: He has bilateral palmar contractures proximal to the fourth digits. No tenderness to palpation along digits. Passive extension of the digits is limited bilaterally but does not elicit pain. When asked to place his palm flat on the table, there is notable contracture of the bilateral fourth metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint (a positive Hueston’s tabletop test). No erythema or cellulitic changes are appreciated.


Dupuytren’s Contracture is a clinical diagnosis that most commonly presents as painless loss of extension of the fourth and fifth phalanx. Collagen deposition and subsequent fibrosis within the palmar fascia cause nodule formation along the flexor tendons near the distal palmar crease. Clinically this appears as puckering, tethering, and/or dimpling of the skin of the palm (as shown in the photograph). Accompanying joint rigidity and loss of full extension of the digit typically can take years to fully develop. Pain or inflammatory findings are not commonly seen unless there is an underlying tenosynovitis. Without signs of infection, outpatient management with Hand Surgery is the appropriate initial management.

Risk factors for the development of Dupuytren’s contracture include northern European descent, age greater than 50 years, and diabetes. The condition has been associated with tobacco use disorder, alcohol use disorder, jobs that require repetitive handling tasks or vibration, and localized fibrotic pathologies including Peyronie’s disease.

Take-Home Points

  • Dupuytren’s contracture presents as a painless palmar contraction (typically proximal to the 4th or 5th digit) that impedes finger extension.
  • A progressive condition, Dupuytren’s is best managed through Hand Surgery referral provided there is no evidence of superinfection.
  • Repetitive motion occupations, tobacco use, alcohol use, and diabetes are key risk factors.

  • Shih B, Bayat A. Scientific understanding and clinical management of Dupuytren disease. Nat Rev Rheumatol 2010; 6:715.   Trojian TH, Chu SM. Dupuytren’s disease: diagnosis and treatment. Am Fam Physician 2007; 76:86.

By |2023-09-14T12:40:35-07:00Sep 15, 2023|Orthopedic, SAEM Clinical Images|

SAEM Clinical Images Series: Contact Your Nearest Ophthalmologist


A 29-year-old female with a past medical history of migraine headaches presented to the emergency department (ED) for several hours of bilateral eye pain, redness, and decreased visual acuity. The patient is a contact lens wearer. The night prior to presentation at 18:00, the patient inserted her contacts that she had washed and soaked in a hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) cleaning solution. She removed the contacts five hours later at 23:00, at which time she noted her eyes to feel drier than normal but did not note significant pain with removal, significant trauma, or a partial contact removal. For the eye dryness and mild irritation, she rinsed her eyes with her contact solution. She woke up the following day at 6:00 with severe, bilateral eye pain, blurry vision, and difficulty opening her eyes due to pain. She again washed her eyes with contact solution which resulted in worsening pain while also noting a “fizzing” sensation in her eyes which prompted her presentation to the ED at 10:00. She denied any foreign body sensation, known trauma, or experiencing similar symptoms previously.

General: Mildly uncomfortable appearing

Eyes: Bilateral corneal injection with mild tearing. No foreign body on lid eversion. Uncorrected visual acuity of 20/200 in the right eye and 20/30 in the left eye. Extra-ocular movements intact. Right eye pressure measured 18 mmHg and left eye 17 mmHg. pH 7.0 in both eyes.

Fluorescein uptake represents defects in the cornea that allow for this dye to pool. For this case, this represents trauma caused by contact lens removal as the uptake covers the areas where contacts are placed.

Given the location and size of these defects, antibiotic drops should be promptly initiated, and prompt ophthalmologic evaluation should be obtained.

Take-Home Points

  • Corneal abrasions can occur in both eyes at once.
  • Timely administration of antibiotic drops and ophthalmology evaluation is crucial to prevent progression to corneal ulcer and the need for corneal transplant.

  • Cope JR, Collier SA, Rao MM, Chalmers R, Mitchell GL, Richdale K, Wagner H, Kinoshita BT, Lam DY, Sorbara L, Zimmerman A, Yoder JS, Beach MJ. Contact Lens Wearer Demographics and Risk Behaviors for Contact Lens-Related Eye Infections–United States, 2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015 Aug 21;64(32):865-70. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6432a2. PMID: 26292204; PMCID: PMC5779588.
  • Stapleton F, Bakkar M, Carnt N, Chalmers R, Vijay AK, Marasini S, Ng A, Tan J, Wagner H, Woods C, Wolffsohn JS. CLEAR – Contact lens complications. Cont Lens Anterior Eye. 2021 Apr;44(2):330-367. doi: 10.1016/j.clae.2021.02.010. Epub 2021 Mar 25. PMID: 33775382.
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2022, August 16). Hydrogen Peroxide Solution. Hydrogen Peroxide Solution | FDA. Retrieved September 5, 2022, from

By |2023-09-05T15:24:04-07:00Sep 11, 2023|Ophthalmology, SAEM Clinical Images|

SAEM Clinical Images Series: A Dangerous Cause of Abdominal Pain

liver abscess

A 65-year-old male presented with chest and abdominal pain for three weeks. He endorsed a poor appetite and a weight loss of 16 kilograms in the last month. He denied fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and tarry stools and described having his usual bowel movements.

Vitals: BP 172/71; HR 127; T 35.9°C; O2 Sat 100%

General: In acute distress

Cardiovascular: Regular rate and rhythm; no murmur; bilateral upper extremity and lower extremity pulses palpable

Gastrointestinal: Soft; generalized tenderness, no abdominal masses, palpable subcutaneous emphysema

Complete blood count (CBC): WBC 31 x 10^3/mcl; Hgb 15 g/dl; Hct 49.1%; Plt 477 x 10^3/mcl

Basic metabolic panel (BMP): Na 130 mmol/L; K 5.6 mmol/L; Glucose 538 mg/dL

CRP: 42.6 mg/dL

Ketone body: 5.9 mmol/L

Venous blood gas (VBG): pH 6.967; pCO2 27.9 mmHg; pO2 45.8 mmHg; BE -24.7 mmol/L

Rupture of gas-forming pyogenic liver abscess complicated by necrotizing fasciitis. The most common pathogen is Klebsiella pneumoniae, and diabetes mellitus is the most common risk factor.

Treatment includes drainage, systemic antibiotic therapy, and emergent surgical intervention.

Take-Home Points

  • Gas-forming pyogenic liver abscess is a rare but life-threatening disease. Consider it especially in the patient with abdominal pain with diabetes mellitus.
  • Treatment includes not only drainage and systemic antibiotic therapy, but also emergent surgical intervention if complicated by necrotizing fasciitis.

  • Chen CE, Shih YC. Monomicrobial Klebsiella pneumoniae Necrotizing Fasciitis With Liver Abscess: A Case Report and Literature Review. Ann Plast Surg. 2017 Mar;78(3 Suppl 2):S28-S31. doi: 10.1097/SAP.0000000000001001. PMID: 28177973.
  • Cheng NC, Yu YC, Tai HC, Hsueh PR, Chang SC, Lai SY, Yi WC, Fang CT. Recent trend of necrotizing fasciitis in Taiwan: focus on monomicrobial Klebsiella pneumoniae necrotizing fasciitis. Clin Infect Dis. 2012 Oct;55(7):930-9. doi: 10.1093/cid/cis565. Epub 2012 Jun 19. PMID: 22715175.

By |2023-08-27T21:58:28-07:00Sep 1, 2023|Gastrointestinal, SAEM Clinical Images|

SAEM Clinical Images Series: There’s a Stone Under My Tongue


A 44-year-old female presented to the emergency department with the complaint of a “stone under [her] tongue.” She reported that the “stone” had been present and painless for two years. The day prior, she began experiencing pain at this site while brushing her teeth. She squeezed the area in an attempt to expel it, but this action only increased her pain.

Vitals: BP 156/92; Pulse 80; Temp 98.4°F; Resp 14; SpO2 100%

General: Sitting on chair, no acute distress

HEENT: Localized swelling to the inferior lingual frenulum at Wharton’s duct with associated erythema. Partially visualized white calculus, palpable through the mucosal membrane.

Sialolith in Wharton’s Duct. There was visual and tactile evidence of a calculus under the patient’s tongue. It had slowly grown and was associated with increased pain and swelling while brushing her teeth.

The majority of sialoliths can be managed conservatively with hydration, moist heat application, massaging of the gland, milking the duct, and advising the patient to suck on tart candies to promote salivation. Larger, more superficial sialoliths may benefit from excision in the emergency department. In the case above, local anesthetic was injected, and manual expulsion was attempted but was unsuccessful. The emergency physician made a single 1 cm incision over the calculus and a 0.5 cm x 0.75 cm sialolith was removed with minimal bleeding. The patient was discharged on a course of amoxicillin-clavulanic acid.

Take-Home Points

  • Dehydration, trauma, anticholinergics, and diuretics predispose to the formation of sialoliths, with 80-90% arising from the submandibular glands. As with our patient, the most common presentation is a single calculus within Wharton’s duct causing pain and swelling during periods of increased salivation.
  • Conservative treatment is the mainstay of sialolith management. Larger, more superficial sialoliths may require excision. Imaging and specialist referral should be considered in cases concerning for tumor, abscess, or treatment failure.
  • Huoh KC, Eisele DW. Etiologic factors in sialolithiasis. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2011 Dec;145(6):935-9. doi: 10.1177/0194599811415489. Epub 2011 Jul 13. PMID: 21753035.

By |2023-08-27T21:38:49-07:00Aug 28, 2023|HEENT, SAEM Clinical Images|

SAEM Clinical Images Series: A Painful Swollen Digit


A 50-year-old male with a history of polysubstance use disorder and poorly-controlled type 2 diabetes mellitus presents with left hand pain. One week ago, the patient sustained a macerating injury of the left distal middle digit. Since that time he has experienced worsening pain throughout the digit, now associated with diffuse swelling and discoloration. The patient also reports reduction in range of motion.

Vitals: Temp 97.6°F (36.4°C); BP 134/89; HR 87; Resp 16

General: Uncomfortable appearing male.

Musculoskeletal: Left hand third digit with fusiform edema, diffuse erythema, and warmth. Held in passive flexion at rest. Skin breakdown noted at distal fingertip with scant serous drainage. Tender to palpation, most markedly over the volar surface of the PIP joint. Patient reports severe pain with passive extension at the MCP, PIP, and DIP joints.

Glucose: 296

White Blood Cell (WBC) Count: 8,000/μl

ESR: 54 mm/hr

Infectious flexor tenosynovitis is an infection of the flexor tendon and synovial sheath with a significant risk of complications (e.g., tendon rupture, loss of function, amputation) if not promptly treated. Patients classically present 2-4 days after penetrating trauma to the hand (e.g., bite/scratch, puncture wound, laceration, injection).

This diagnosis is suggested clinically by four cardinal findings, the Kanavel signs:

1) diffuse “fusiform” swelling of the digit (most common)

2) digit held in passive flexion

3) tenderness to percussion over the flexor sheath

4) pain with passive extension

Although fundamentally a clinical diagnosis, the initial evaluation for infectious flexor tenosynovitis should include laboratory studies including complete blood count (CBC) and inflammatory markers (ESR/CRP). Radiographs may be performed to evaluate for occult traumatic injury or foreign body. Treatment includes emergent consultation of orthopedics or hand surgery, initiation of intravenous (IV) antibiotics, and hospital admission. Antibiotics should target gram-positive organisms (Staphylococcus, including MRSA, and Streptococcus). In immunocompromised patients, additional coverage against gram-negative organisms and anaerobes may be needed. Risk factors for poor outcomes include immunocompromise (HIV, diabetes, immunosuppression), intravenous drug use, peripheral vascular disease, and polymicrobial infection.

Take-Home Points

  • Infectious flexor tenosynovitis is a surgical emergency that is diagnosed clinically by the presence of one or more of the four Kanavel signs on physical exam.
  • History of trauma or penetrating injury and immunocompromised status should raise suspicion for infectious flexor tenosynovitis; common pathogens include Staphylococcus and Streptococcus species.
  • Treatment includes emergent consultation with orthopedics or hand surgery as well as early initiation of IV antibiotics.

  • Ritter K, Fitch R. Tenosynovitis. In: Knoop KJ, Stack LB, Storrow AB, Thurman R. eds. The Atlas of Emergency Medicine, 5e. McGraw Hill; 2021. Accessed November 30, 2022.
  • Hyatt MT, Bagg MR. Flexor Tenosynovitis. OrthopClin N Am 2017;48:217-27.
  • Pang HN, Teoh LC, Yam AKT, Lee JYL, Puhaindran ME, Tan ABH. Factors affecting the prognosis of pyogenic flexor tenosynovitis. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. 2007;89(8):1742-1748.

SAEM Clinical Images Series: A Man with Blurry Vision

cranial nerve

A middle-aged man with a past medical history of hypertension and tobacco use disorder presented to the Emergency Department after evaluation by an ophthalmologist.  He complained of ten days of a right-sided headache and three days of diplopia. He denied eye pain, pain with eye movements, photophobia, and vision loss.

Vitals: Temp 98.4 °F (36.9 °C); BP 122/72; Pulse 90; Resp 16; SpO2 100%

Neuro: Ptosis, “down and out” deviation and pupil dilation of the right eye were noted. Extraocular movements were intact and pupils were reactive to light bilaterally. No other neurologic deficits were observed.


This patient has a partial cranial nerve (CN) III (oculomotor nerve) palsy. CN III is composed of: (a) internal somatic motor fibers that innervate the levator palpebrae superioris (which elevates the upper eyelid) and the medial recti, superior recti, inferior recti, and inferior oblique extraocular muscles, and (b) external parasympathetic fibers innervating the ciliary muscles (involved in accommodation) and sphincter pupillae (involved in pupillary constriction). The presentation of complete isolated CN III palsy generally involves ipsilateral ptosis (due to levator palpebrae paralysis) and “down and out” ocular deviation (due to preservation of superior oblique and lateral rectus function).

The most common etiology of CN III palsy is ischemia of the nerve fibers secondary to diabetes mellitus or hypertension, which preferentially affects the internal somatic fibers that surround the blood supply. This etiology classically results in a pupil-sparing palsy due to preserved function of the external parasympathetic fibers. However, the most feared etiology is an intracranial aneurysm, most commonly a posterior communicating artery aneurysm. This source of external compression classically affects both the internal somatic motor fibers and external parasympathetic fibers, resulting in asymmetric pupil dilation.

Take-Home Points

  • CN III palsy etiologies include ischemia secondary to diabetes mellitus or hypertension, and structural causes, most commonly a posterior communicating artery aneurysm.
  • On exam, complete CN III palsies will present with ipsilateral ptosis, “down and out” ocular deviation, and pupillary dilation. Partial CN III palsies may have a more subtle presentation.
  • New-onset CN III palsy should be evaluated with a CTA to rule out an aneurysm.

  • Biousse V, Newman NJ. Third nerve palsies. Semin Neurol. 2000;20(1):55-74. doi: 10.1055/s-2000-6833. PMID: 10874777. 2. Singh A, Bahuguna C, Nagpal R, Kumar B. Surgical management of third nerve palsy. Oman J Ophthalmol. 2016 May-Aug;9(2):80-6. doi: 10.4103/0974-620X.184509. PMID: 27433033; PMCID: PMC4932800.

Images and cases from the Society of Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) Clinical Images Exhibit at the 2021 SAEM Annual Meeting | Copyrighted by SAEM 2021 – all rights reserved. View other cases from this Clinical Image Series on ALiEM.

By |2023-08-14T14:10:25-07:00Aug 18, 2023|Neurology, SAEM Clinical Images|
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