Source: Rev Med Interne
Metabolic encephalopathies (ME) are a common cause of admission to emergency rooms, to hospitalization wards or to intensive care units. They could account for 10 to 20% of causes of comatose states in ICU and could be associated to a poor outcome especially in older patients. Nevertheless, they are often reversible and are associated with a favorable outcome when diagnosed and rapidly treated. They correspond to an altered brain functioning secondary to the deficiency of a substance that is mandatory for the normal brain functioning or to the accumulation of a substance that can be either endogenous or exogenous. It preferably occurs in co-morbid patients, complicating its diagnosis and its management. Altered brain functioning, going from mild neuropsychological impairment to coma, movement disorders especially myoclonus and the absence of any obvious differential diagnosis are highly suggestive of the diagnosis. Whereas some biological samplings and brain MRI are essential to rule out differential diagnosis, some others, such as electroencephalogram, may be able to propose important clues in favor of the diagnosis. Once simple symptomatic measures are introduced, the treatment consists mainly in the correction of the cause. Specific treatment options are only seldom available for ME; this is the case for hepatic encephalopathy and some drug-induced encephalopathies. We will successively describe in this review the main pathophysiological mechanisms, the main causes, favoring circumstances of ME, the differential diagnosis to rule out and the etiological work-up for the diagnosis. Finally, a diagnostic and therapeutic strategy for the care of patients with ME will be proposed.