Why a Diet History Can Be Helpful

A recent clinical problem-solving case report (D Hafez, et al. NEJM 2016; 374: 1369-74) highlights why a dietary history is important.  The initial paragraph indicated that a 2 year old with delayed speech and a picky eater presented with a 6 week history of progressive inability to bear weight.

The authors of this report explained the entire sequence of diagnosis which included extensive studies like bloodwork, radiographs, MRI, and bone marrow biopsy.  The last paragraph indicates that finally someone asked about the child’s diet: “approximately 1.4 liters of chocolate milk and ate two to four graham crackers per day. His mother acknowledged that these items were the mainstay of his diet.”

It turns out that the patient had vitamin C deficiency causing scurvy.  “Unfortunately, a comprehensive dietary review was performed only after an exhaustive and costly workup had been pursued.”  Personally, if I were involved in such a case, I would be embarrassed if it were published.

My take: While scurvy is interesting and rare in this country, the broader lesson of this report is to get a better dietary history before pursuing a huge workup.

Related blog posts:

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