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Case Study 7


A 45 year-old man presented to the hospital complaining of hand and foot pain so severe that he was unable to drive his car. The man had been well until several weeks earlier, when he began having gastrointestinal distress that he thought was “heartburn” and mild weight loss, which he attributed to his dyspepsia. He denied fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. He also related that on the day prior to admission he was unable to eat a meal because he thought it was spoiled after taking a few bites. The next morning, while driving, he pulled off the road and phoned emergency medical services. He was taking no medications and had no allergies.

Physical Examination

In the emergency department, the patient appeared well developed and well nourished, but was complaining of severe pain in his hands and feet. Vital signs were: blood pressure, 124/68 mm Hg; pulse, 92 beats/min; respiratory rate, 14 breaths/min; oral temperature, 98.6°F (37.0°C); oxygen saturation, 99% on room air; and a rapid reagent glucose of 128 mg/dL. Physical examination was notable for pupils that were equal, round (4 mm), and reactive to light; normal extraocular movements; and the absence of nuchal rigidity. His chest was clear to auscultation, and his heart sounds were normal. His abdomen was soft and nontender, with normal bowel sounds and no organomegaly. He was awake, alert, and oriented with normal symmetrical strength and brisk reflexes. Although he complained of pain in his hands and feet, his two-point discrimination, proprioception, and vibration sensation appeared normal. His gait was slightly wide based and slow, but this was thought to be secondary to pain. Cranial nerves II through XII appeared intact, and cerebellar testing was normal.

Immediate Assessment and Management

Although the patient appeared uncomfortable, there was no perception of an immediate life threat. An intravenous line was inserted, and blood was obtained for a complete blood count, electrolytes, and liver function testing. A urinalysis was requested as was an electrocardiogram and a chest radiograph. Acetaminophen was given for analgesia, without relief. The patient required parenteral opioids to diminish his pain, although he noted that the distribution had spread to include most of his legs and arms. He also became somnolent, and it was unclear if the ensuing somnolence was opioid related.

What Is the Differential Diagnosis?

The major presenting symptom in this case is a painful sensory peripheral neuropathy (an uncommon clinical manifestation) associated with gastrointestinal symptoms (a common manifestation). Considerations include a variety of metabolic and endocrine disorders, infections, medications, and toxins. Severely painful symmetrical paresthesias are fairly uncommon and the differential diagnosis is limited. Considerations include freezing injury such as frostbite (Chap. 30), proximity to radioactive materials (Chap. 134), and topical exposure to hydrofluoric acid (Chap. 107). A list of xenobiotics that can cause such findings following ingestion is found in (Table CS7–1).

What Immediate Diagnostic and Therapeutic Interventions Are Indicated?...

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