SAEM Clinical Images Series: A Lethal Combination of Skin and Lung Findings


A 49-year-old female with a past medical history of recurrent diverticulitis initially presented with one month of shortness of breath and a minor nonproductive cough for which she was started on doxycycline by her primary care provider. She then developed a rash on her chest, upper back, and face. Antibiotics were switched to amoxicillin and azithromycin. She underwent a brief admission of six days for shortness of breath but did not have an oxygen requirement at that time. She was evaluated by pulmonology (evaluated for cocci, unknown results), and then discharged. She then presented again to the ED with two weeks of worsening shortness of breath, intermittent fevers (Tmax 101°F), nausea/vomiting, fatigue, and arthralgias.

Vitals: BP 100/66; HR 128; Temp 37.2 °C (99 °F); Resp 44; SpO2 84%; BMI 28.25 kg/m2; Wt 79.4 kg (175 lb); Ht 1.676 m (5′ 6″)

General: NAD

Cardiovascular: Tachycardia, no m/r/g

Lungs: Coarse breath sounds at bases bilaterally, tachypneic

Abdomen: Soft, non-distended

Skin: Heliotrope rash to face (violaceous, erythematous rash to eyelids and nasolabial fold), shawl sign (erythematous patches to chest and upper back), shallow ulcers to tongue and lower inner lip, tender papules involving palms and lateral fingers bilaterally, and faint erythema of proximal nail fold

White blood cell (WBC) count: No leukocytosis

ESR: Elevated

LDH: Elevated

CK: Within normal limits

CXR: Bilateral infiltrates

CTPE: Negative for PE, but with scattered areas of ground glass and consolidative opacities throughout both lungs.

If emergency medicine physicians consider MDA5 Dermatomyositis (MDA5 DM) with rapidly progressive interstitial lung disease (RP-ILD) on their differential for patients presenting with skin and pulmonary symptoms, this can result in more rapid diagnosis and aggressive treatment.

This patient was admitted requiring 40 L HFNC, then two days later required intubation for severe ARDS and was placed on VV-ECMO the same day. Her hospital course was complicated by tachyarrhythmias requiring cardioversion, and Takostubo physiology. She was found to be MDA-5 antibody positive and ultimately expired while waiting for a lung transplant.

Take-Home Points

  • Critical actions in approaching ED patients with dermatological physical exam findings (even in the absence of known rheumatological history) with progressive pulmonary symptoms should include early consideration of dermatomyositis, serologic testing, early rheumatology and pulmonology consults, and early consideration of ECMO as a bridge to response to immunotherapy or lung transplant
  • Beginning these critical actions with first patient contact in the ED will only help improve patient outcomes throughout hospitalization.
  • Huang K, Levy RD, Avina-Zubieta JA. Successful lung transplant in rapid progressive interstitial lung disease associated with anti-melanoma differentiation associated gene 5. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2020 Aug 1;59(8):2161-2163. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/keaa032. PMID: 32068868.
  • Koga T, Fujikawa K, Horai Y, Okada A, Kawashiri SY, Iwamoto N, Suzuki T, Nakashima Y, Tamai M, Arima K, Yamasaki S, Nakamura H, Origuchi T, Hamaguchi Y, Fujimoto M, Ishimatsu Y, Mukae H, Kuwana M, Kohno S, Eguchi K, Aoyagi K, Kawakami A. The diagnostic utility of anti-melanoma differentiation-associated gene 5 antibody testing for predicting the prognosis of Japanese patients with DM. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2012 Jul;51(7):1278-84. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/ker518. Epub 2012 Feb 29. PMID: 22378718.
  • Moghadam-Kia S, Oddis CV, Sato S, Kuwana M, Aggarwal R. Anti-Melanoma Differentiation-Associated Gene 5 Is Associated With Rapidly Progressive Lung Disease and Poor Survival in US Patients With Amyopathic and Myopathic Dermatomyositis. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2016 May;68(5):689-94. doi: 10.1002/acr.22728. PMID: 26414240; PMCID: PMC4864500.

SAEM Clinical Images Series: More Than Skin Deep


A 57-year-old female college counselor living in the northeastern United States with no PMH presented for evaluation of rash, joint pain, and dyspnea for the past three weeks. The patient first noticed the rash on her upper back, describing it as being itchy. The rash then spread to her face, scalp, and thighs. Two weeks ago, she noticed swelling in her hands and had a gradual onset of dyspnea on exertion. The patient has pain in her hands and when moving her fingers. She denied fever, cough, chills, chest pain, headache, vision changes, focal weakness, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. She denied recent travel, sick contacts, significant time spent outdoors, known tick bites, new medications, and changes in her diet. She has never had a rash like this before.

Vitals: BP 110/70; HR 86 BPM; RR 18 breaths/min; T 37°C; SpO2 96% on RA

Skin: Warm and dry. There is a macular, violaceous rash to the upper back and upper thighs. The patient’s hands are slightly edematous with nontender papules on the palmar aspect of the hands.

CV: Heart sounds are normal. No jugular venous distention or lower extremity edema.

Lungs: There are faint bibasilar rales heard on auscultation of the chest.

Extremities: Full ROM of the joints and there are no bony deformities. The patient does not have muscular tenderness.

Neuro: Within normal limits; muscle strength 5/5 in all four extremities.

CBC w/ differential: Normal

BMP: Na 142, K 3.8, Cl 106, HCO3 24, BUN 16, Cr 0.44, Glu 112, Ca 8.5, Mg 2.2, Phos 3.4

LFT’s: AST 105, ALT 76, ALP 68, Tbili 0.2 Alb 3.7

PT/PTT/INR: 12.0s/32.2/1.04

D-dimer: 347

ESR: 62

CRP: 0.75

Ferritin: 625

CK: 195

LDH: 276

Procalcitonin: undetectable

Amyopathic dermatomyositis – specifically anti-melanoma differentiation-associated gene 5 (anti-MDA5) positive dermatomyositis as determined by subsequent inpatient auto-immunological workup. Compared to other dermatomyositides, anti-MDA5 positive dermatomyositis is characterized by an absence of traditional muscular involvement. Additionally, patients can present with respiratory symptoms related to interstitial lung disease (ILD). One phenotype of this condition is associated with a rapidly progressive ILD, but respiratory involvement may be delayed years after the initial symptoms are noticed. The patient’s clinical images demonstrate a macular, violaceous rash in the “shawl sign” and “holster sign” distribution patterns typical of dermatomyositides. Palmar papules (not to be confused with Gottron’s papules which are found on the dorsal surface of the metacarpophalangeal and interphalangeal joints) are fairly specific for anti-MDA5 positive dermatomyositis

There are no specific guidelines for treating anti-MDA5 positive dermatomyositis. Patients are typically started on a high-dose steroid regimen. A rheumatology consult should be obtained to determine if the patient would benefit from treatment with immunosuppressants. Given her complaints of dyspnea, the patient should undergo a non-contrast CT of the chest to evaluate for evidence of scarring or pulmonary fibrosis.

Take-Home Points

  • Anti-MDA5 positive dermatomyositis is associated with rapidly progressive ILD has a poor prognosis.
  • This rare form of dermatomyositis should be suspected if the patient has respiratory complaints in addition to the hallmark cutaneous findings commonly observed in all types of dermatomyositides. Palmar papules are fairly specific for anti-MDA5 positive dermatomyositis. It often lacks typical historical and physical features of muscular weakness.
  • Treatment involves high-dose corticosteroids and consideration of immunomodulator therapy.

  • Allenbach Y, Uzunhan Y, Toquet S, Leroux G, Gallay L, Marquet A, Meyer A, Guillaud C, Limal N, Gagnadoux F, Hervier B, Borie R, Deligny C, Terrier B, Berezne A, Audia S, Champtiaux N, Devilliers H, Voermans N, Diot E, Servettaz A, Marhadour T, Castelain V, Humbert S, Blanchard-Delaunay C, Tieulie N, Charles P, Gerin M, Mekinian A, Priou P, Meurice JC, Tazi A, Cottin V, Miyara M, Grange B, Israël-Biet D, Phin-Huynh S, Bron C, De Saint Martin L, Fabien N, Mariampillai K, Nunes H, Benveniste O; French Myositis Network. Different phenotypes in dermatomyositis associated with anti-MDA5 antibody: Study of 121 cases. Neurology. 2020 Jul 7;95(1):e70-e78. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000009727. Epub 2020 Jun 2. PMID: 32487712; PMCID: PMC7371381.
  • Nombel A, Fabien N, Coutant F. Dermatomyositis With Anti-MDA5 Antibodies: Bioclinical Features, Pathogenesis and Emerging Therapies. Front Immunol. 2021 Oct 20;12:773352. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2021.773352. PMID: 34745149; PMCID: PMC8564476.

SAEM Clinical Image Series: Silver Scales

A 6-year-old otherwise healthy female presented to the emergency department (ED) with a rash across all four extremities. She has had seven months of pruritic, expanding lesions starting on her shins, now beginning to expand on her forearms. No history of allergies or irritant exposure. Due to Covid-19, she has been unable to see a provider before today’s ED visit.

Vitals: T 98.3°F; BP 96/72; HR 92; RR 24; O2 sat 100%

Skin: Numerous patchy red lesions scattered across bilateral upper and lower extremities with silver plaque accumulation. No nailbed involvement. No mucous membrane involvement.


Psoriasis vulgaris, plaque subtype, is a common dermatologic condition often seen in the outpatient setting. Plaques are most commonly noted on the knees, elbows, and lower back. The silvery plaques in characteristic locations are a hallmark of this diagnosis but are rarely seen to this extent. Unfortunately for this patient, this was the initial presentation due to the inability to access care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initial management is with high-potency topical corticosteroids. Systemic steroids should be avoided to prevent exacerbation or eruption of pustular psoriatic lesions. In this case, given the patient’s age and disease severity, she was seen in the ED by Dermatology and initiated on corticosteroid topical therapy. She was encouraged to establish care with rheumatology to be routinely screened for associated life-altering pathologies including psoriatic arthritis and uveitis.

Take-Home Points

  • When making a visual diagnosis of plaque psoriasis, evaluate for erythema, edema, or signs of superinfection.
  • Avoid systemic steroids given the risk of rash exacerbation, especially upon withdrawal.
  • Younger patients and those with more than 10% body surface area involvement should be evaluated by a dermatologist for initiation of topical corticosteroids and possible escalation to phototherapy, methotrexate, retinoids, or biologic agents.
  1. Menter A, Cordoro KM, Davis DMR, Kroshinsky D, Paller AS, Armstrong AW, Connor C, Elewski BE, Gelfand JM, Gordon KB, Gottlieb AB, Kaplan DH, Kavanaugh A, Kiselica M, Kivelevitch D, Korman NJ, Lebwohl M, Leonardi CL, Lichten J, Lim HW, Mehta NN, Parra SL, Pathy AL, Farley Prater EA, Rupani RN, Siegel M, Stoff B, Strober BE, Wong EB, Wu JJ, Hariharan V, Elmets CA. Joint American Academy of Dermatology-National Psoriasis Foundation guidelines of care for the management and treatment of psoriasis in pediatric patients. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2020 Jan;82(1):161-201. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2019.08.049. Epub 2019 Nov 5. Erratum in: J Am Acad Dermatol. 2020 Mar;82(3):574. PMID: 31703821.




Antibiotics, Myasthenia Gravis, and Risk of Weakness

antibioticsA 71 year old female presents to the ED with lethargy, fever (39.5 C), and tachypnea (RR 28 rpm). She has a long-standing history of myasthenia gravis (MG) for which she receives periodic IVIG infusions. She is accompanied by her son, who informs you that she had a recent 10-day hospital stay for weakness. A CXR reveals an infiltrate in the left lower lobe.

The decision is made to initiate antimicrobial therapy for presumed healthcare-associated pneumonia. But, which antibiotics are safe to use in a patient with severe MG?


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