Lower Extremity Erythema
Am Fam Physician. 2018 Jul 15;98(2):107-108.
A 69-year-old man and self-described hermit presented with erythema on his left leg. He was prescribed a seven-day course of trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole for suspected cellulitis. A lower extremity venous duplex scan was negative for deep venous thrombosis. He presented to the emergency department one week later with spreading erythema and increased pain on weight bearing. He had new petechiae on his right lower extremity. He had a history of tobacco use, long-term daily alcohol use, and hypertension.
Physical examination revealed an open eschar over the left medial malleolus (Figure 1). There was no fluctuance, crepitus, or warmth. Posterior tibial pulses were weak but present on Doppler ultrasonography. Capillary refill was normal. Laboratory workup was notable for chronic iron deficiency anemia and an international normalized ratio of 1.4 without anticoagulation. An arterial duplex scan showed complete occlusion of the midanterior and distal anterior tibial artery. Magnetic resonance imaging showed intramuscular lesions consistent with chronic fibrosis from ischemia. Lower extremity punch biopsies were conducted to assist with diagnosis. Pathology showed perifollicular hemorrhage.
Based on the patient's history, physical examination, and test results, which one of the following is the most likely diagnosis?
A. Cellulitis refractory to treatment.
B. Ischemia due to peripheral artery disease.
C. Necrotizing fasciitis.
D. Small vessel vasculitis.
E. Vitamin C deficiency (scurvy).
The answer is E: vitamin C deficiency (scurvy). A diagnostic punch biopsy demonstrated perifollicular hemorrhage consistent with scurvy. Low vitamin C levels predicate decreased synthesis of collagen, which allows for the breakdown of connective tissue, followed by the development of erythema, necrotic areas, and anemia. Many patients with scurvy have eschars.1,2 Because of his isolated lifestyle, the patient may have other nutrient deficiencies.
Cellulitis presents as skin breakdown followed by unilateral painful erythema that is warm to the touch. It is typically associated with induration, fluctuance, or drainage. Cellulitis often leads to systemic symptoms such as fevers, chills, or tachycardia, especially with failed outpatient therapy.3
The patient had pulses on Doppler ultrasonography and adequate capillary refill, which rules out acute ischemia. Despite the eschar,
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3. Hook EW III, Hooton TM, Horton CA, Coyle MB, Ramsey PG, Turck M. Microbiologic evaluation of cutaneous cellulitis in adults. Arch Intern Med. 1986;146(2):295–297.
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5. Mandell GL, Douglas RG, Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. New York, NY: Elsevier; 2015.
6. Sharma P, Sharma S, Baltaro R, Hurley J. Systemic vasculitis. Am Fam Physician. 2011;83(5):556–565.
This series is coordinated by John E. Delzell Jr., MD, MSPH, Associate Medical Editor.
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