Friday, July 23, 2010

RED FLAG FRIDAY: Snuff Box Tenderness

Assume that all snuff box tenderness is a scaphoid fracture! Even in the presence of a normal x-ray! These injuries usually require immediate splinting with with thumb spica splint and an orthopedic surgery consultation to rule out a scaphoid fracture which if not healed correctly can cause chronic hand pain from non-union and avascular necrosis.
Friday, July 16, 2010

RED FLAG FRIDAY: Joint Swelling

Joint effusions are common. Most often they are related to injury. But if a patient presents with joint swelling AND fever, that combo is a septic joint until proven otherwise. I usually do a STAT referral to an ER who will then do a STAT orthopedic surgery consult! Although other conditions can cause joint swelling and fevers, this is not one to miss or blow off.
Monday, July 12, 2010

The "Danger" of Epipen

Epipens are great! They can be a life saver!  BUT, they only buy patients about 20 minutes of time. And then guess what? That's right!—the wheezing, throat edema, tongue swelling, and chest tightness comes right back again (but this time without an Epipen).

Over the years, I have made it a habit to warn all my patients who carry an Epipen, "If you ever need to use it, GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM RIGHT AWAY. If you don't, you will be up a creek without an Epipen."
Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fungus Loves Baby Bottoms

Fungus love moist environments (i.e. a baby's bottom). Most diaper rashes will go away simply by leaving the diaper off (which is my recommendation for really bad diaper rashes). I still use anti-fungal creams (like Lotrimin), but keeping the bottom dry work wonders.
Saturday, July 10, 2010

Send a culture on EVERYTHING that oozes!

I send an aerobic cultures on EVERYTHING that oozes. I have been surprised many times at what grows out of even innocuous looking infections. The benefits are: 1) if it is MRSA, I can place the entire family on prophylaxis 2) I get to see what kind of resistance patterns are developing in my community, 3) it give me an opportunity to know if my initial choice of antibiotics are correct, and 4) it's easy to do.
Friday, July 09, 2010


When someone comes in for a sore throat, I look especially for a peritonsilar abscess. And when I do NOT find one, this is how I document a normal exam: Tonisilar pillars are symmetric and uvula a midline. If there is a peritonsilar abscess—which happens about once a year in my practice—I send the patient immediately to the ER who then consults an ENT doc to do an incision and drainage of the abscess. (I'm not about to stick a scalpel near someone's carotid artery!)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Pediatric Bactrim Dosing

Bactrim suspension is dose at approximately 1 teaspoon for every 22 pounds. This is given twice a day. For example, a 45 pound kid would get about 2 tsp by mouth twice a day. Just be aware of the maximum dose. Pretty cool eh? And no calculators involved!
Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Bilateral Pedal Edema

When a patient presents with new-onset bilateral pedal edema (especially with elevated blood pressure), I make it a habit to check a UA looking for proteinuria. Every once in a while, I catch a new case of nephrotic syndrome that way—since peeing out your albumin (and other proteins) will definitely cause extra-vascular edema from reduced inter-vascular oncotic pressure.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The "Think About It" Technique

Sometimes patients need some time to "mull" over things. And the idea of getting certain tests (i.e. colonoscopy) or starting certain medications (which they will have to take for the rest of their lives) is stressful to them. I have learned that for some patients, it is best simply to "bring up the idea" before prescribing an intervention. Here are some of the things that I might say:
Mr. Jones, at your next visit, we should schedule your screening colonoscopy. You've been putting it off for a while now.
Mr. Williams, the treatment of diabetes requires as least 4 different medications: your diabetic medication, something called an ACE inhibitor, aspirin, and a cholesterol medication called a statin. I'm telling you this now because I don't want you to be shock in the future. Today, we'll just start the metformin. As you come back, I'll talk to you more about the benefits of the other medications. 
Mrs. Stevens, your cholesterol is still really high. We should consider starting a cholesterol medication at our next visit in 3 months if it is still elevated.
Treating blood pressure frequently requires 3 or more medications. Most blood pressure medications at their maximum dose will only bring down your blood pressure by 15 points. So don't be alarmed if we have to add more medications in the future.
Guess what Mr. Reed, we need to do your rectal exam at our next visit!
Preparing patients mentally like this, especially for those who are typically against medical intervention, seems to "soften the blow" when the time comes. 
Monday, July 05, 2010

Don't Be Fooled by a Negative C. Diff. Toxin Test

As family doctors, we are typically pretty good at screening for C.Diff. But just because someone has a negative C.Diff. Toxin Test does not mean that they do NOT have C.Diff. Remember that this test is imperfect and frequently needs to be repeated. Often it is better just to start empiric treatment while waiting for the workup.
Sunday, July 04, 2010

Just a fever, doc, nut'in else!

For folks who present with only fevers or malaise, check for a urinary tract infection. In the elderly, UTIs commonly present as just malaise. For children, fever is frequently the only symptom.
Saturday, July 03, 2010

"For The Rest of Your Life!"

This conversation occurs frequently:
"Mr. Jones, your cholesterol has gone back up. Are you taking your simvastatin everyday?"
"No... Was I suppose to?"
This is usually followed by an awkward silence.
"Ummmmm... Yeah.."
"Well, my last cholesterol was good and so I thought that I could just stop the medication."
For medications that need to be taken chronically, I have made it a habit to say something like, "You will likely need to take this medication for the rest of your life. If you make some dramatic changes to your lifestyle or you lose a lot of weight, we can talk about stopping the medicaiton. But don't stop the medication unless we talk about it or you are having a side effect." 
Friday, July 02, 2010


Just like back pain, the vast majority of diarrhea is self-limiting and benign. But here are some "red flags" that I typically screen for:
  1. RECENT ANTIBIOTIC USE—consider Clostridium Difficile.
  2. RECENT CAMPING (or drinking water form a lake, pond, or stream)—consider Guardia. I once had a man who maintained fountains in ponds who we diagnosed with Guardia. My only case in the last 10 years. 
  3. CHRONIC WEIGHT LOSS—consider looking for colon cancer or inflammatory bowel
  4. ABDOMINAL PAIN or BLOODY STOOLS—Consider invasive organism such as salmonella. Also entertain other infectious causes of abdominal pain.
Again, those are just some of the "red flags" off the top of my head. Do you have any others?
Thursday, July 01, 2010

Encouragement is Sometimes the Best Medicine

I have a patient who we recently diagnosed with diabetes. During our visits, I have tried to explain the importance of reducing simple carbs in his diet, but I don't think that he ever "got it." At our last visit, I noticed that he lost 30 pounds over the past 3 months (and I didn't need a scale to tell me that). He was proud of the progress that he had made with he weight and his improved diabetic control. When I asked him how he did it, he told me that he was eating a lot of rice. At that moment, the thought briefly entered my mind of discussing carbs again. But you know what? I didn't say a word! That day was not the right time for that discussion? He was doing well, losing weight, and his glycemic control had improved. That day was the time for simple encouragement. That day was the time to celebrate his success.