SAEM Clinical Image Series: An Uncommon Cause of Shortness of Breath

Feb 28, 22
SAEM Clinical Image Series: An Uncommon Cause of Shortness of Breath

shortness of breath

A 102-year-old female presents with intermittent epigastric abdominal pain for the last two days. Episodes have no relieving or exacerbating factors. The pain originates in the epigastrium and radiates diffusely to the abdomen and back, resolving on its own within minutes of onset. She has had one episode of nonbilious, non-bloody emesis. Her last bowel movement was two days prior and she hasn’t been able to pass gas. The pain is associated with mild shortness of breath which has been progressively worsening since the onset of symptoms. Her family was concerned and called EMS because the shortness of breath has worsened and the episodes of pain have been progressively worsening in intensity. The patient denies fever, chills, hematuria, urinary frequency, chest pain, headache, dizziness, syncope, recent traumatic events, and any other associated symptoms.

General: Well-appearing; no acute distress; awake, alert, and oriented to date, place, and person

Cardiovascular: Regular rate and rhythm; S1/S2 present; 2+ systolic ejection murmur; capillary refill <2 seconds; 2+ pulses in all extremities

Respiratory: Lungs clear to auscultation bilaterally with diminished breath sounds in the left lower lobe; no signs of respiratory distress; no accessory muscle use

Abdomen: Soft; non-tender; non distended; no palpable masses; no guarding or rebound tenderness; no signs of peritonitis

Extremities: Full range of motion of all extremities; nonambulatory at baseline

Complete blood count (CBC): WBC 10.8 x 10^3/mcl; Hgb 12 g/dl; Hct 40.1%; Plt 375 x 10^3/mcl

Basic metabolic panel (BMP): Na 139 mmol/L; K 3.7 mmol/L; Cl 97 mmol/L; CO2 31 mmol/L; Glucose 170 mg/dL; BUN 10 mg/dL; Cr 0.58 mg/dL; Ca 10.2 mmol/L

Liver function test: AST 19 U/L; ALT 7 U/L; Alk Phos 144 U/L

Lipase: 11 U/L

Venous blood gas (VBG): pH 7.33; pCO2 61.1 mmHg; pO2 38 mmHg; BE -7 mmol/L

Lactic acid: 1.56 mmol/L

Small bowel obstruction (SBO) secondary to a spigellian hernia with an associated hiatal hernia. 

The CT demonstrates a spigellian hernia causing a small bowel obstruction. Spigellian hernias are hernias in the spigellian fascia which is located between the semilunar line and the lateral edge of the rectus abdominus muscle. These hernias constitute 0.12% of abdominal wall hernias, making them very rare and difficult to diagnose clinically. Spigellian hernias often go unnoticed until they are strangulated and require surgery. This patient not only had a rare spigellian hernia but also had a hiatal hernia causing the stomach to enter the pleural space. It’s possible that the bowel obstruction worsened the hiatal hernia with the backup of gastric contents and gas.

Take-Home Points

  • Spigellian hernias are rare abdominal wall hernias with a myriad of potential complications.
  • Shortness of breath is frequently considered a pathology involving the lungs or pulmonary vasculature, however abdominal complaints, especially in this case, can cause significant respiratory distress.
  • Elderly patients may have difficulty verbalizing their exact symptoms, and it is good practice to gather collateral information from families to aid in caring for these patients.

  • Spangen L. Spigelian hernia. World J Surg. 1989 Sep-Oct;13(5):573-80. doi: 10.1007/BF01658873. PMID: 2683401.

 

Author information

Marimer Rivera-Nieves, MD

Marimer Rivera-Nieves, MD

Resident Physician
Department of Emergency Medicine
Lincoln Hospital

The post SAEM Clinical Image Series: An Uncommon Cause of Shortness of Breath appeared first on ALiEM.

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