Arthrocentesis: Knee (Internal Medicine)

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  • Diagnostic evaluation of acute monoarticular or polyarticular arthritis
  • Therapeutic treatment of acute joint effusions
  • Overlying skin infections or lesions
  • Arthrocentesis is probably safe in patients with a coagulopathy, unless the coagulopathy is severe. However, the safety of arthrocentesis in patients with abnormal coagulation is not established.
  • Bacteremia
  • Skin cleansing agent (e.g., chlorhexidine or povidone-iodine)
  • Sterile gauze
  • Local anesthetic (1% lidocaine is acceptable)
  • Small (e.g., 5 mL) syringe with 25-gauge needle for anesthetic injection
  • Syringe (30-60 mL for large effusions) with an 18-gauge needle for joint aspiration
  • Specimen tubes for submission of synovial fluid to the laboratory; typically, an EDTA tube is used for cell count and differential, and a lithium heparin tube is used for crystal examination.
  • Bandage
  • Elastic wrap (to be applied after large joint aspirations)
  • Gloves
  • The knee joint is the largest synovial cavity in the body and extends from the proximal tibia to the suprapatellar region.
  • A subcutaneous prepatellar bursa is located on the outer surface of the patella, just under the subcutaneous tissue.
  • The needle enters 1 cm medial or lateral to the superior third of the patella.

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  • Monitor for signs of infection in the region.
  • Place an elastic bandage around the knee
  • Treat suspected septic arthritis before formal diagnosis.
    • The choice of antibiotic may be made empirically, or based upon the gram stain results.
    • Intraarticular antibiotics are not recommended.
    • The joint capsule must be repeatedly drained until the effusion is cleared. Operative drainage may be needed.
  • Treatment of gout
    • High-dose nonsteroidal antiinflammatory agents, colchicine, and oral steroids may be used.
    • Antihyperuricemia treatment should be delayed.
  • Treatment of pseudogout
    • Treatment is identical to that for acute gout. Antihyperuricemic agents are not used.
  • Complications are uncommon.
    • Iatrogenic infection
    • Iatrogenic hemorrhage
    • Pain during the procedure
    • Reaccumulation of the joint fluid.
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