Case 24: Evaluation after a fall

Last updated: March 23, 2022

Examinee instructionstoggle arrow icon

Opening scenario

Marisa Hernandez, a 30-year-old female; , comes to the urgent care clinic after a fall.

Vital signs

  • Temperature: 98°F (36.7°C)
  • Blood pressure: 121/69 mm Hg
  • Heart rate: 95/min
  • Respirations: 13/min

Examinee tasks

Patient encountertoggle arrow icon

Patient instructions

  • You have been physically abused by your husband, and this is not the first time it has happened. Act nervous, and do not make very much eye contact with the examinee.
  • Paint one bruise on your left upper arm and multiple bruises on your right lower arm. Paint a bruise on your right cheek right below your eye. (Alternatively, show the examinee these pictures during the physical examination: .)
  • If the examinee touches or lightly presses on the bruises while examining your arms and face for injuries, tell him/her that it hurts.
  • You are not aware of the meanings of medical terms (e.g., ultrasound) and ask for clarification if the examinee uses them.
  • Use the checklists below for history, physical examination, and communication and interpersonal skills.

Challenge: Be defensive when asked open-ended questions about the situation (e.g., “Is there anything else you have noticed/you would like to tell me?”) and the exact mechanism of the fall. Only reveal the information about domestic violence when directly asked. Do not give the examinee any hints!

Focused historytoggle arrow icon

Hovering over the speech bubbles in the lists below will reveal extra information about the adjacent term. However, clicking on links will cause you to navigate away from the current case, at which point your progress (i.e., your check marks) will be lost. If you do want more information on a subject, either open the link in a new tab or wait until you and your partner have finished the case and reviewed the check marks. Following the link to the patient note form will not interrupt your progress.

History of present illness

  • Chief complaint
  • I fell down the stairs at home yesterday; , and now my left arm and the right side of my face have these big bruises that really hurt.
  • Onset/time of the event
  • I fell yesterday night, and the bruises were there when I woke up this morning.
  • Precipitating events/mechanism of the fall
  • I just slipped on the stairs, and I fell onto my arm and head. I should have been more careful.
  • Progression
  • It seems like the bruises might still be getting bigger today.
  • Previous episodes
  • I get bruises a lot; actually. I think I just bruise easily.
  • Frequency
  • It is hard to say. I almost always have a bruise somewhere on me.
  • Alleviating factors
  • I put an ice pack on the bruise on my face earlier and it helped a little.
  • Aggravating factors
  • It hurts more when I touch it.
  • Associated symptoms
  • No, what do you mean? I just fell and now I have bruises, what else do you want to hear?

Review of systems specific to easy bruising/evaluation after a fall

  • Headache
  • My face hurts where the bruise is, but that is it.
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • No.
  • Fever/chills
  • No.
  • Night sweats
  • No.
  • Fatigue
  • No.
  • Rash/skin changes
  • No.
  • Pain in joints
  • No, my arms just hurt where I have the bruises.
  • Urinary problems
  • No.
  • Bowel problems
  • No.
  • Sleep problems
  • I do not always sleep as much as I would like to, but that's just the way it goes with kids, right?
  • Appetite
  • I have always had a good appetite.
  • Weight changes
  • No.
  • Dizziness
  • No.
  • Increased bleeding after minor injuries (e.g., cut)
  • I have not had a cut in a while, but I remember cutting my finger pretty deep years ago with a kitchen knife and having to change the band-aid like 3 times because it kept bleeding.
  • Increased bleeding during childbirth
  • I think I lost a little too much blood the second time around. I was really tired for weeks.
  • Increased bleeding during menstrual period (number of tampons/day)
  • Yes, I used to have to change my tampon nearly every hour, so my doctor started me on birth control after the birth of my second child. It has gotten better since, though.
  • Nosebleeds
  • No.
  • Bleeding of gums after brushing teeth
  • I do not think so.
  • Bleeding into muscles, joints, or deep tissue
  • No.

Past medical history, family history, and social history

History specific to domestic violence

  • Relationship with spouse
  • He is really stressed right now, so he sometimes gets angry. I do not think it is his fault, I should just try to be more attentive and find ways to reduce his stress.
  • Afraid for own safety/safety of children
  • Well, sometimes he moves me around a little too rough or his hand slips. I did not really fall down the stairs yesterday.; I just don't like to tell anyone because he really does not mean it and he always apologizes. I don't think he would ever hurt the kids.
  • Gun at home
  • No.
  • Emergency plan (safe place to go in case of emergency)
  • I think I could stay with my sister.
  • Support system (friends and family aware of abuse)
  • My sister knows about it, but she is the only one. I do not want people to think that there are any problems in our family. I think most marriages go through stressful times.
  • Alcohol/drug use of the spouse
  • He sometimes drinks a little too much when he comes home from work. That is usually when he gets angry.
  • Depression
  • No.
  • Regularity of abuse
  • Maybe once or twice a week when work gets really stressful or when I do not have time to clean up the mess the kids make before he comes home.

RAGE SADR: Relationship with partner, Afraid of partner, Gun at home, Emergency plan, Support system, Alcohol/drug use of spouse, Depression, Regular abuse.

Focused physical examinationtoggle arrow icon

Communication and interpersonal skillstoggle arrow icon

Patient interaction

  • Examinee knocked on the door.
  • Examinee introduced him- or herself and identified his/her role.
  • Examinee correctly used the patient's name.
  • Examinee asked open-ended questions.
  • Examinee listened attentively (did not interrupt the patient).
  • Examinee showed interest in the patient as a person (i.e., appeared caring and showed respect).
  • Examinee demonstrated the ability to support the patient's emotions (i.e., offered words of support, asked for clarification).
  • Examinee did not repeat painful maneuvers during physical examination.
  • Examinee discussed initial diagnostic impressions with the patient.
  • Examinee explained the management plan.
  • Examinee used non-medical terms and provided reasons for planned steps in management.
  • Examinee evaluated the patient's agreement with the next diagnostic steps.
  • Examinee asked about concerns or questions.

Counseling and challenge

Suggested response to challenge: ”Mrs. Hernandez, I understand that some of my questions may seem unnecessary or intrusive to you. It is really important, though, that I understand exactly what happened to you so that I can help you today. Any information that you share with me is strictly confidential and will not be shared with anyone else. Based on my experience with some of my other patients, I wonder if someone at home has been hurting you – is that the case?”

Patient notetoggle arrow icon

Further discussiontoggle arrow icon

Patient note

Differential diagnoses

  1. Domestic violence: This patient presents with bruises of varying stages on both arms, as well as bruises on her face, which raise concern for abuse. When tactfully questioned, she admits that her husband is physically violent with her 1–2 times weekly, confirming the diagnosis of domestic violence. The physician's role in this case should be to provide support and assistance with whatever course of action the patient desires, while making sure not to report the domestic violence without patient consent (unless the patient is incompetent, e.g., mentally disabled, elderly, or a minor). Although the patient history confirms domestic violence in this case, a different cause of this patient's easy bruising must also be ruled out.
  2. Immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP): ITP is commonly asymptomatic but can present with symptoms of thrombocytopenia, including those seen here (easy bruising, petechiae, menorrhagia, and prolonged bleeding after injuries), and is a diagnosis of exclusion in isolated thrombocytopenia. It is particularly common in women of childbearing age and children, and often takes a chronic course in adults. Although it can be primary, ITP can also be secondary to an array of serious conditions (e.g., lymphoma, leukemia, SLE, HIV, HCV) and should therefore be carefully considered if thrombocytopenia is found on CBC.
  3. Von Willebrand disease (vWD): vWD, like ITP, is commonly asymptomatic but can present with symptoms of thrombocytopenia, as described above. Although less common than ITP, especially in women of childbearing age, it is the most common congenital hemostatic disorder and should be considered in this case as well.

Diagnostic studies

Other differential diagnoses to consider

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