These secrets are 100 of the top board alerts. They summarize the most important concepts,
principles, and salient details of internal medicine.
1. Informed consent is not merely a signature on a form but a process by which the patient and
physician discuss and deliberate the indications, risks, and benefits of a test, therapy, or procedure
and the patient’s outcome goals.
2. Patients should participate in informed consent, even if they have impaired memory or communication
skills, whenever they have sufficient decision-making capacity.
3. Decision-making capacity is determined by assessing the patient’s ability to (1) comprehend the
indications, risks, and benefits of the intervention; (2) understand the significance of the underlying
medical condition; (3) deliberate the provided information; and (4) communicate a decision.
4. Many states now have specific physician-signed order forms to indicate a patient’s end-of-life
preferences for resuscitation and intensity of care.
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dose of tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccine to improve adult immunity to pertussis (whooping cough).
6. Zoster vaccine is indicated for adults ≥ 60 years old even if they have had an episode of herpes
7. Adolescent girls and boys should begin human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine at age 11–12 to
prevent HPV infection and reduce cervical cancer risk. Those who start at a later age can “catch
up” through age 21 (men) or age 26 (women).
8. High-risk patients and those 65 years and older should receive two types of pneumococcal
vaccine: pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine
(PCV23) at least 12 months apart.
9. Antibiotic prophylaxis before dental procedures is recommended only for patients with (1) significant
congenital heart disease; (2) previous history of endocarditis; (3) cardiac transplantation; and
(4) prosthetic valve.
10. “Routine” preoperative testing is not helpful to reduce surgical risk. Laboratory and procedural
tests should be ordered to address the acuity or stability of a medical problem or to investigate an
abnormal symptom or physical sign identified during the consultation.
11. Preoperative consultation should include identification of risk factors for postoperative venous
thromboembolism and appropriate treatment.
12. Patients undergoing major surgery who are at risk of adrenal suppression may need glucocorticoid
therapy in the perioperative period. Some patients, though, may just need close monitoring
postoperatively for signs of adrenal insufficiency.
13. “Tight” control of diabetes with target blood sugar of 80–110 mg/dL may not be beneficial
14. Metformin should be held and renal function closely monitored for patients undergoing surgery or
imaging procedures involving contrast agents.
15. Asking the patient about personal and family history of bleeding episodes associated with minor
procedures or injury is as effective in identifying bleeding diatheses as measuring coagulation
16. Noninvasive stress testing has the best predictive value for detecting coronary artery disease
(CAD) in patients with an intermediate (30–80%) pretest likelihood of CAD and is of limited value in
patients with very low (<30%) or very high (>80%) likelihood of CAD.
17. Routine use of daily low-dose aspirin (81–325 mg) can reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular
disease in high-risk patients with known CAD, diabetes, stroke, or peripheral or carotid vascular
18. Routine daily low-dose aspirin use is associated with an increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding,
which can be reduced through the use of proton pump inhibitors.
19. Right ventricular infarction should also be considered in any patient with signs and symptoms of
inferior wall myocardial infarction.
20. Diabetes is considered an equivalent of known CAD, and treatment and prevention guidelines for
diabetic patients are similar to those for patients with CAD.
21. Patients with congestive heart failure (CHF) and left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) < 35% with
class II or III New York Heart Association (NYHA) symptoms should be considered for implantable
22. Consider aortic dissection in the differential diagnosis of all patients presenting with acute chest or
upper back pain.
23. Increasing size of an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) increases the risk of rupture. Patients with
AAA greater than 5 cm or aneurysmal symptoms should have endovascular or surgical repair.
Smaller aneurysms should be followed closely every 6 to 12 months by computed tomography (CT)
24. Patients presenting with pulselessness, pallor, pain, paralysis, and paresthesia of a limb likely have
acute limb ischemia due to an embolus and require emergent evaluation for thrombolytic therapy
25. Patients with symptoms of transient ischemic attack are at high risk of stroke and require urgent
evaluation for carotid artery disease and treatment that may include antiplatelet agents, carotid
endarterectomy, statin drugs, antihypertensive agents, and anticoagulation.
26. All patients with peripheral arterial disease and cerebrovascular disease should stop smoking.
27. Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), CHF, vocal cord dysfunction, and upper
airway cough syndrome (UACS) can all cause wheezing.
28. Inhaled corticosteroid therapy should be considered for asthmatic patients with symptoms that
occur with more than intermittent frequency.
29. Pulmonary embolism cannot be diagnosed by history, physical examination, and chest radiograph
alone. Additional testing such as d-dimer level, spiral chest CT scan, angiography, or a combination
of these tests will be needed to effectively rule in or rule out the disease.
30. Sarcoidosis is a multisystem disorder that frequently presents with pulmonary findings of abnormal
chest radiograph, cough, dyspnea, or chest pain.
31. Hepatitis C virus infection can lead to cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma, and severe liver disease
requiring liver transplantation. Routine screening for infection is helpful for certain high-risk groups
including those born in the United States between 1945 and 1965.
32. Travelers to areas with endemic hepatitis A infection should receive hepatitis A vaccine.
33. Celiac sprue should be considered in patients with unexplained iron-deficiency anemia or
34. In the United States, gallstones are common among American Indians and Mexican Americans.
35. Esophageal manometry may be needed to complete the evaluation of patients with noncardiac
chest pain that may be due to esophageal motility disorders.
36. The estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) is now routinely reported when chemistry panels
are ordered and can provide a useful estimate of renal function.
37. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor or angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB) use should be
evaluated for all diabetics, even those with normotension, for their renoprotective effects.
38. Diabetes is the most common cause of chronic kidney disease (CKD) in the United States, followed
39. When erythrocyte-stimulating agents are used for the treatment of anemia associated with CKD
and end-stage renal disease, the hemoglobin level should not be normalized but maintained at
40. Almost 80% of patients with nephrolithiasis have calcium-containing stones.
41. Hyponatremia can commonly occur after transurethral resection of the prostate.
42. Thrombocytosis, leukocytosis, and specimen hemolysis can falsely elevate serum potassium
43. Intravenous calcium should be given immediately for patients with acute hyperkalemia and electrocardiographic
44. Hypoalbuminemia lowers the serum total calcium level but does not affect the ionized calcium.
45. Hypokalemia, hypophosphatemia, and hypomagnesemia are common findings in alcoholics who
46. Lupus mortality rate is bimodal in distribution. It peaks in patients who die early from the disease
or infection and again in patients who die later in life from cardiovascular diseases.
47. Inflammatory arthritis is characterized by morning stiffness, improvement with exercise, and
involvement of small joints (although large joints may also be involved).
48. Patients with autoimmune disorders who smoke should be counseled to quit because tobacco has
recently been linked to precipitation of symptoms and poorer prognosis.
49. Most rheumatologic diseases are diagnosed via clinical criteria based on thorough history, physical
examination, and selective laboratory testing and imaging.
50. Early diagnosis of an inflammatory arthritis leads to intervention and improved clinical outcomes
because there are many disease-modifying therapies available.
51. The most common immunoglobulin (Ig) deficiency is IgA deficiency, which can cause a falsepositive
52. Intranasal steroids are the single most effective drug for treatment of allergic rhinitis. Decongestion
with topical adrenergic agents may be needed initially to allow corticosteroids access to the
deeper nasal mucosa.
53. ACE inhibitors can cause dry cough and angioedema.
54. Beta blockers should be avoided whenever possible in patients with asthma because they may
accentuate the severity of anaphylaxis, prolong its cardiovascular and pulmonary manifestations,
and greatly decrease the effectiveness of epinephrine and albuterol in reversing the
life-threatening manifestations of anaphylaxis.
55. Patients with persistent fever of unknown origin should first be evaluated for infections, malignancies,
and autoimmune diseases.
56. Viruses are the most common causes of acute sinusitis; therefore, antibiotics are ineffective,
unless symptoms are persistent (>10 days) or relapse after improvement.
57. Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) occurs through North and Central America with concentration
in the southeastern and south central U.S. states with increasing incidence in Arizona (on
Indian reservations). Empiric therapy for RMSF should be considered within 5 days of symptom
onset for patients with febrile illnesses and a history of a tick bite who have been in these regions
in the spring or summer (May to September).
58. Asplenic patients (either anatomic or functional) are susceptible to infections with encapsulated
organisms (Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, and Neisseria meningitidis) and
should receive appropriate vaccinations for these organisms in addition to up-to-date childhood
vaccinations. Needed vaccinations should be administered 14 days before elective splenectomy, if
59. Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) occurs in asthmatics and is evident by recurrent
wheezing, eosinophilia, transient infiltrates on chest radiograph, and positive serum antibodies to
60. Chagas disease, caused by Trypanosoma cruzi, can cause cardiomyopathy, cardiac arrhythmias,
61. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is preventable and treatable but not curable.
62. Routine HIV testing should be considered for all patients aged 13–65 years.
63. A fourth-generation Ag/Ab combination enzyme immunoassay (EIA) is needed for diagnosis of
acute primary HIV infection.
64. HIV-infected patients with undetectable viral loads can still transmit HIV.
65. HIV-infected patients with tuberculosis are more likely to have atypical symptoms and present with
66. All patients with HIV infection should be tested for syphilis, and all patients diagnosed with syphilis
(and any other sexually transmitted disease) should be tested for HIV.
67. The presence of thrush (oropharyngeal candidiasis) indicates significant immunosuppression in an
68. Transferrin saturation and ferritin are effective screening tests for hemochromatosis.
69. Methylmalonic acid can be helpful in the diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency in patients with low
normal vitamin B12 levels.
70. Patients with chronic hemolysis should receive folate replacement (1 mg/day).
71. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is the most common leukemia in adults and is often found in those
older than 70 years.
72. Patients with antiphospholipid syndrome have an antiphospholipid antibody and the clinical occurrence
of arterial or venous thromboses or both, recurrent pregnancy losses, or thrombocytopenia.
73. Solid tumor staging often uses American Joint Commission on Cancer (AJCC) TNM staging
(T = tumor size and areas of invasion; N = regional nodal status; and M = distant metastases).
74. Each type of cancer is driven by different mutations and abnormal checkpoints for which many
new, targeted immunotherapeutics have been developed.
75. Differential diagnosis when evaluating possible malignancy should always ensure an accurate
treatment plan and may require multiple biopsies and other procedures prior to diagnosis.
76. Tobacco and alcohol use are significant risk factors for head and neck cancers.
77. The treatment plan for a malignancy is often chemotherapy but may include surgical oncology,
radiation oncology, and palliative medicine.
78. The best initial screening test for evaluation of thyroid status in most patients is the thyroidstimulating
hormone (TSH). The exceptions are patients with pituitary and hypothalamic dysfunction.
79. Patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM) should be screened at regular intervals for
the microvascular complications of retinopathy, neuropathy, and nephropathy.
80. Closely examine the feet of diabetic patients regularly, looking for ulcerations, significant callous
formation, injury, and joint deformities that could lead to ulceration. Check dorsalis pedis and
posterior tibial pulses to detect reduced blood flow and sensation with a monofilament.
81. Erectile dysfunction and decreased libido in men and amenorrhea and infertility in women are the
most common symptoms of hypogonadism.
82. Hyperparathyroidism is the most common cause of hypercalcemia.
83. Ataxia can be localized to the cerebellum.
84. Gait dysfunction, urinary dysfunction, and memory impairment are symptoms of normalpressure
85. In the appropriate setting, thrombolysis can markedly improve the outcome of stroke. Prompt
initiation of thrombolytic therapy is essential.
86. The sudden onset of a severe headache may indicate an intracranial hemorrhage.
87. Optic neuritis can be an early sign of multiple sclerosis.
88. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is the recommended treatment for insomnia,
particularly for older adults.
89. Older adults are particularly susceptible to the anticholinergic effects of multiple medications,
including over-the-counter antihistamines.
90. Anemia is not a normal part of aging, and hemoglobin abnormalities should be investigated.
91. Decisions regarding screening for malignancies in the elderly should be based not on the age
alone but on the patient’s life expectancy, functional status, and personal goals.
92. Systolic murmurs in the elderly may be due to aortic stenosis or aortic sclerosis.
93. Delirium in hospitalized patients is associated with an increased mortality risk.
94. When delirium occurs, the underlying cause should be thoroughly evaluated and treated.
95. Pneumonia is the most common infectious cause of death in the elderly.
96. Patients with life-limiting or serious illness can be referred for palliative care at any point in their
illness process, regardless of prognosis.
97. A stimulant laxative should always be prescribed whenever opiates are prescribed for chronic pain
management to manage opiate-induced constipation.
98. Patients can discontinue hospice care if their symptoms improve or their end-of-life goals change.
99. Opiates are the first line treatment for severe dyspnea at the end of life.
100. Opioid analgesics are available in many forms including tablets to swallow or for buccal application,
oral solutions, lozenges for transmucosal absorption, transdermal patches, rectal suppositories,
and subcutaneous, intravenous, or intramuscular injection administration.