IM Board Review

Abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea in a 32-year-old woman

Author and Disclosure Information



A 32-year-old woman presented to our emergency department with chest pain and painful ulcerations on her arms, abdomen, back, groin, axillae, and in her mouth. She first noticed the ulcers 7 days earlier.

She also reported bloody diarrhea, which had started 2 years earlier, with 10 or more bowel movements daily. She described her stools as semiformed and associated with urgency and painful abdominal cramps.

Medical history

Her medical history included obstructive sleep apnea and morbid obesity. She had first presented 2 years earlier to another hospital with diarrhea, abdominal pain, and rectal bleeding. At that time, results of esophagogastroduodenoscopy and colonoscopy were reported as normal. Later, she became pregnant, and her symptoms went away. She had a normal pregnancy and delivery.

About 1 year postpartum, her abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea recurred. Colonoscopy showed severe sigmoid inflammation with small, shallow ulcerations and friable mucosa interrupted by areas of normal mucosa. Histopathologic study of the colonic mucosa indicated mild to moderate chronic active colitis consisting of focal areas of cryptitis with occasional crypt abscess formation. She was diagnosed with Crohn colitis based on the endoscopic appearance, histopathology, and clinical presentation. The endoscope, however, could not be advanced beyond the sigmoid colon, which suggested stenosis. She was started on 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) but developed visual hallucinations, and the medication was stopped.

Her symptoms continued, and she developed worsening rectal bleeding and anemia that required hospitalization and blood transfusions. Another colonoscopy performed 1 month before this emergency department visit had shown multiple mucosal ulcerations, but again, the colonoscope could not be advanced beyond the sigmoid colon. She was started on oral corticosteroids, which provided only minimal clinical improvement.

Her current medications included atenolol (for sinus tachycardia), prednisone (initial dose 60 mg/day tapered to 20 mg/day at presentation), and ciprofloxacin.

Her family history was unknown because she had been adopted.

About 1 week before presentation, she had noticed ulcers developing on her arms, abdomen, back, groin, oral mucosa, and axillae. The ulcers were large and painful, with occasional spontaneous bleeding. She also reported pustules and ulcerations at sites of previous skin punctures, consistent with pathergy.

Findings on presentation

  • Temperature 99.5°F (37.5°C)
  • Heart rate 124 beats per minute
  • Respiratory rate 22 breaths per minute
  • Oxygen saturation 100% on room air
  • Blood pressure 128/81 mm Hg
  • Body mass index 67 kg/m2 (morbidly obese).

She had multiple greyish-white patches and erosions over the soft palate, tongue, and upper and lower lip mucosa, erythematous pustules in the axillae bilaterally, and large erythematous, sharply demarcated ulcerations with a fibrinous base bilaterally covering her arms, thighs, groin, and abdomen.

Results of admission laboratory testing

Blood testing showed multiple abnormal results (Table 1). Urinalysis revealed a urine protein concentration of 100 mg/dL (reference range 0), more than 25 white blood cells per high-power field (reference range < 5), 6 to 10 red blood cells per high-power field (0–3), and more than 10 casts per low-power field (0), which suggested a urinary tract infection with hematuria.

Computed tomography (CT) of the abdomen and pelvis with intravenous and oral contrast showed diffuse fatty infiltration of the liver and wall thickening of the rectum and sigmoid colon.

She was admitted to the medical intensive care unit for potential septic shock. Intravenous vancomycin and ciprofloxacin were started (the latter owing to penicillin allergy).


Next Article:

Sarcoidosis mimicking lytic osseous metastases

Related Articles