Cough, Chest Pain, and Dyspnea in a Woman With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Cough, Chest Pain, and Dyspnea in a Woman With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Figure 1
Figure 1

A 40-year-old Hispanic homemaker is admitted with a 3-week history of high fever, chest pain, and a dry, irritating cough.

Her illness began insidiously with increasing right upper chest pain that is sharp, pleuritic, and rates a 6 on a pain scale of 1 to 10. The pain is associated with temperatures of up to 38.8°C (102°F) and chills, rigors, and profuse sweating that increase in the evening. Worsening dyspnea has been accompanied by a drop in effort tolerance.

The patient was seen at a local urgent care center and treated with levofloxacin for a week. A chest radiograph showed infiltrates in the right upper lobe. The symptoms worsened and the medication was switched to clarithromycin, but there was no marked improvement.

The patient has a history of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and has been under the care of a rheumatologist. Initially, she was treated with ibuprofen, then with corticosteroids and hydroxychloroquine. During the past 12 months, she has received a weekly injection of infliximab. No tuberculin skin test was done before the initiation of infliximab therapy because the patient told the rheumatologist that results of a tuberculin skin test the year before were negative.

The patient's appetite is poor and she has lost 6 lb in the past 3 weeks. She denies hemoptysis, palpitations, ankle edema, lymphadenopathy, rash, and joint swelling. She has no history of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, jaundice, hematemesis, melena, headache, vision problems, seizures, syncope, weakness, paresthesias, urinary symptoms, or bleeding diathesis.

Both of her parents have type 2 diabetes; a younger brother has bronchial asthma. The patient smokes half a pack of cigarettes a day; she does not drink alcohol or use illicit drugs. She is sexually monogamous. She visited her grandparents in Mexico for 2 weeks a year ago.

Examination. This thin woman appears chronically ill. Her hands show changes consistent with chronic RA, including swan-neck deformity.

Heart rate is 122 beats per minute and regular; temperature, 38.8°C (102°F); respiration rate, 24 breaths per minute; blood pressure, 118/68 mm Hg. Her weight is 104 lb. Hydration status is good. Examination of the head and neck shows no icterus, erythema, or evidence of candidal infection. The mucosa and skin are pale; there are no rashes or tattoos. There is no palpable lymphadenopathy or ankle edema; the thyroid is not palpable. Chest movements are symmetric and equal bilaterally. The trachea is centrally located and the chest is resonant to percussion. Breath sounds are harsh in the right upper zone and coarse rales are heard. The jugular venous pressure and heart sounds are normal. The abdomen is soft and nontender with no organomegaly or fluid. Results of a neurologic examination are normal.

Figure 2
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 3

Laboratory studies. White blood cell count, 12,800/µL, with 80% polymorphonuclear leukocytes and 20% lymphocytes. Hemoglobin level, 10.2 g/dL; platelet count, 156,000/µL. A peripheral smear shows normocytic normochromic anemia. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate, 124 mm/h. Urinalysis results are normal. Blood glucose level, 92 mg/dL; blood urea nitrogen, 12 mg/dL; creatinine, 0.8 mg/dL; serum sodium, 138 mEq/L; potassium, 4 mEq/L; chloride, 100 mEq/L. Total bilirubin, 1 mg/dL; conjugated bilirubin, 0.6 mg/dL. Total protein, 7.8 g/dL; albumin, 3.2 g/dL; alkaline phosphatase, 118 U/L; aspartate aminotransferase, 24 U/L; alanine aminotransferase, 21 U/L. Two blood cultures are negative for organisms. Serologic evaluation for Coccidioides yields negativeresults. Serum ferritin, 350 ng/mL. Serum iron, 38 µg/dL. Total iron-binding capacity, 200 µg/dL.

A chest radiograph and sputum evaluation for acid-fast bacteria (AFB) are ordered.

In view of the clinical picture and laboratory and radiographic findings, what is the most likely diagnosis?

A. Community-acquired pneumonia
B. Rheumatoid lung disease
C. Pulmonary coccidioidomycosis
D. Pulmonary tuberculosis
E. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis


(Answer and discussion on next page)


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