A 71-year-old man presented to the ED with right upper quadrant
pain of two day’s duration.
The pain began as a dull ache in the midepigastrium and then
moved to the right upper quadrant and right flank. He vomited several
times and was unable to eat. The emesis was a watery brown material.
He had a small bowel movement earlier that day.
He had a history of diabetes and hypertension and was taking
glyburide and lisinopril.
He had not had prior abdominal surgery.
On examination, he was overweight and in mild distress due to
abdominal discomfort. His blood pressure was 148/100 mm
Hg, pulse 110 beats/min, respiratory rate 24 breaths/min,
temperature 100.4°C (rectal).
He was alert and oriented. His oral mucosa was dry and sclera
was anicteric. His lungs were clear and his heart was rapid and
regular without a murmur.
Abdominal examination revealed diminished bowel sounds, moderate
tenderness in the right upper quadrant, and a Murphy’s
sign. There was no tenderness on rectal examination and stool was
An intravenous line was started and blood specimens were obtained.
Intravenous fluids, insulin, and ampicillin/sulbactam were
Blood test results (units for electrolytes, mEq/L and
chemistry values, mg/dL, except where noted):
- WBC 19,700/mm3, hematocrit 49%,
- Na+ 132, K+ 4.1,
Cl+ 101, CO2+ 22,
BUN 24, creatinine 1.4, glucose 406.
- ALT 100 U/L (normal: 7–37), AST 65 U/L,
alkaline phosphatase 61 U/L (normal: 39–117),
total bilirubin 1.6 (normal: 0.2–1.2), lipase 110 U/L
A bedside sonogram was performed and the gallbladder could not
be confidently identified. The patient was sent to the radiology
department for another abdominal ultrasound study. Selected ultrasound
images, including the right upper quadrant, are shown in Figure
Images A, B and C are
of the right upper quadrant. Images D and E are of the left kidney. Image F is of the right kidney.
- What is this patient’s likely diagnosis?
Hint: Under what circumstances would cholecystitis be difficult
to diagnose by ultrasound?
(What tissue characteristics are disadvantageous for sonographic
The correct diagnosis can be confirmed by another simple imaging
Gallstones have anatomical characteristics that are advantageous
for detection by ultrasonography—a sonolucent fluid-filled
sac (the gallbladder) contains an ...