5/4/18 Intern Morning Report – Shortness of Breath, Cough, Unintentional Weight Loss, Bloody Pleural Effusion, Asbestosis, Malginancy

CC: Shortness of breath and cough for 2 weeks

HPI: This is a 65-year old female with no past medical history presenting with two weeks of shortness of breath and cough as well as three weeks of generalized malaise.  She received a five day course of azithromycin prescribed by her primary care physician with no improvement in symptoms.  She is from Northeastern China and moved to Los Angeles in the 1990s.  She works at and owns a pencil manufacturing factory for ten years . She denies any smoking or alcohol use. Review of systems is pertinent for unintentional weight loss of 10 lbs over the last month.  Physical exam shows the patient to be afebrile, heart rate in the 130s, tachypneic to 22, and sat’ing 96% on room air.  Her rhythm is regular and pulmonary exam demonstrates evidence of a pleural effusion (decreased breath sounds in left lung base, dullness to percussion in the left lung field with decreased tactile fremitus).



CT Chest: Bilateral calcified pleural plaques are present with left pleural thickening.


Pleural fluid is grossly bloody with the following studies:

  • Glucose 72
  • LDH 1100
  • Protein 5.3
  • Color: Red
  • Markedly bloody
  • 902 nucleated cells
  • 84% segmented neutrophils
  • 16% lymphocytes
  • Pathology did not show malignant cells

Body Fluid Comparison

  • Glucose 90
  • LDH 161
  • Protein 6.6

Initial cytology is negative, so the favored diagnosis at the time is BAPE.  However repeat cytology done, showing atypical cells most consistent with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma primary site likely breast.  Patient is eventually diagnosed with breast cancer that is ER+/PR+/HER2 negative.

Morning Report Pearls:

Grossly bloody pleural effusions can narrow your differential to: Malignancy, Trauma, Asbestos, Pulmonary infarct, and Infection


Hemothorax is when the Hct in the pleural fluid is >50% of serum.  Important to know because chest tube placement would be indicated.


Benign Asbestos Pleural Effusion came up on this differential given the fluid being bloody, exudative and with a CT showing calcified pleural plaques.  Just remember that BAPE is a diagnosis of exclusion!  Malignancy should be ruled out first particularly given the elevated risk with asbestos exposure.


Risk Factors to know with regards to asbestos exposure include construction, automotive servicing, mining workers and shipbuilding industries.  When exposed the shorter fibers are typically cleared from the lungs however the longer fibers are transported to the interstitium or to the lymphatics where they can reach the pleura.  Most common finding in asbestos related pleural diseases is parietal plaques followed by pleural fibrosis and pleural effusion.  Pleural fibrosis can cause a restrictive disease if diffuse.  BAPE is almost always hemorrhagic as mentioned above and eosinophils can be elevated in 1/3.  Mesothelioma is a potential cancer that can be difficult to exclude in cases suspicious for BAPE given the low sensitivity of cytology so pleuroscopy may be needed.


Lung cancer is the most common malignancy to cause a pleural effusion and asbestos exposure does increase the risk of lung cancer.  Other cancers that can commonly lead to pleural effusion to consider are breast cancer and lymphoma.

10/25/17 Resident Morning Report – Shortness of Breath, Fevers, Cough, Pleural Effusion, Pleural TB

CC: Shortness of breath, Cough

ID: This is a 20 yo female with no significant past medical history who presents with cough and shortness of breath for 2 weeks.  Three days into her course, she was diagnosed with pneumonia at an outside emergency department and was discharged home with a course of amoxicillin.  However, her symptoms worsened despite 6 days of antibiotics. New symptoms appeared a few days prior to admission including including pleuritic chest pain, worsening shortness of breath when supine, chills as well as fevers. Of note, patient is from Mexico and moved to the United States at 6 years-old.  Her family frequently visits her from Mexico, the last visit occurring one month ago. On exam patient is febrile to 39.8 degrees Celsius, tachycardic to 130 with significant findings of decrease breath sounds on the left side in addition to decrease fremitus and dullness to percussion. CXR obtained showed a large effusion that layered out on lateral decubitus position. Pleural fluid returned consistent with a lymphocyte predominant, exudative process.  Cytology was sent twice which showed no atypical cells but an elevated adenosine deaminase was detected making Pleural Tuberculosis highest on the differential.  Given the suspicion for extra pulmonary TB, a pleural biopsy was pursued and patient was empirically started on RIPE therapy. Pleural biopsy showed necrotizing granulomas but AFB stain negative.  Four weeks later, cultures from pleural fluid and pleural biopsy grew out Mycobacterium Tuberculosis.



Pleural Fluid Analysis:

  • Nucleated Cells 372/cumm
  • Segmented Neutrophils 6%
  • Lymphocytes 72%
  • Monocytes 22%
  • Serum LDH 194
  • Serum Protein 8.2
  • Pleural Fluid Protein/Total Serum Protein = 0.7
  • Pleural Fluid LDH/Serum LDH = 3.3
  • pH 7.31
  • Glucose 70
  • Adenosine Deaminase 60

Pleural Biopsy:

Morning Report Pearls:

When an exudative effusion is diagnosed using Light’s Criteria, it is important to check that it is not a pseudoexudate which can occur due to inherent errors in using protein and LDH pleural/serum ratios but particularly in the setting of diuretic use.  If pleural albumin – serum albumin >1.2 then this is consistent with a pseudoexudate and the fluid likely represents a transudative effusion rather then exudative.  Pleural fluid total protein – serum total protein >3.1 can also be used instead of the albumin gradient.


Nucleated cell counts are useful in differentiating etiologies:


It is important to define if a parapneumonic effusion in a non-resolving pneumonia is complicated or an empyema.  Luckily with our patient, this was not the case.  However if diagnosed with either, management changes as the patient requires drainage of the effusion in addition to antibiotic therapy:


Given this patient had a true lymphocytic exudative effusion in the setting of tuberculosis risk factors, an adenosine deaminase was correctly sent. It is important to remember the utility of the various TB studies:

  • Smear and culture of pleural fluid for AFB is very specific but low sensitivity of around 5%
  • Adenosine deaminase is elevated in most tuberculosis pleural effusion with a sensitivity around 95%
  • Pleural biopsy is the most likely to yield a positive mycobacterial culture, greater then 70%