UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Airway Management

Title: Altered Mental Status-Some Can't Miss Diagnoses

Keywords: Altered mental status (PubMed Search)

Posted: 1/11/2010 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 12/7/2019)
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Altered Mental Status-Three Diagnoses That Can "Bite You On The Buttocks"

When evaluating the patient who is altered, consider the following diagnoses:

1. DTs-seems simple enough, right? Remember that some altered patients will not be able to give a history of alcoholism. And this is definitely a diagnosis that can sneak up on you. Bottom line: consider DTs in ALL patients with a delirium.

2. Wernicke's encephalopathy-can also be very difficult to detect. Consider in ALL alcoholic patients with altered mental status and give Thiamine. 

3. Herpes encephalitis-speaking from personal experience, this diagnosis can be extremely tough to diagnose. Consider giving emperic Acyclovir in patients with WBCs in their CSF and a negative gram stain. And don't forget to send off a Herpes PCR. As far as clinical presentations, CNS Herpes can present with a wide spectrum of findings, from isolated headache, to new psychobehavioral changes, to severe depression of consciousness and coma. Be aware that this diagnosis isn't common but failure to initiate Acyclovir may be a fatal mistake.