A 58-year-old married Asian woman with no apparent psychiatric history presented to the emergency department (ED) in an acute state with ideas of reference, paranoid delusions, and multiple, vague somatic symptoms.
Based on information in the patient’s medical record, there had been suspicion of an underlying psychiatric disorder 6 years earlier. At that time, the patient had presented to her primary care provider (PCP) with vague somatic complaints, including diffuse body pain, dry cough, chills, weakness, facial numbness, and concerns about infections. A physical examination and work-up did not reveal the source of her complaints. Unfortunately, the patient’s complaints increased in number and severity over time.
Her medical records also indicated that she had been assessed for depression severity using the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), with scores of 0 (4 years earlier) and 3 (3 years earlier). The scores suggested that she was not suffering from depression.
During this time, the patient also saw a psychiatrist; however, it was unclear whether her symptoms met the criteria for delusional disorder or schizophrenia because she did not exhibit negative symptoms or sensory hallucinations. In addition, the patient was extremely high-functioning in the community—she participated in dance classes and other social events—and had the equivalent of a medical degree from another country. Based on chart review, when she went to the psychiatrist 3 years prior to her current presentation, there were no antipsychotics prescribed.
In the weeks leading up to her current presentation, the patient reported that she was struggling with sleep, sometimes spending days in bed and other times needing unspecified medication obtained overseas to help her sleep. Her husband reported that she had become increasingly withdrawn and stopped attending her dance classes and social events.
The patient believed the government was trying to poison her via radiation and that unknown people were trying to harm her via an online messaging application. Immediately prior to her arrival in the ED, the police were called to pull her away from oncoming traffic because she ran into the road to find the assassins that were stalking her.
During this recent visit to the ED, the patient presented with labile affect, rapid speech, and anxious and angry mood. She complained about darkened spots on her arm (inflicted through radiation by the media), vaginal bleeding, paralysis below the waist (although she was pacing around), and unspecific pain around her belly. Physical examination revealed no obvious signs of head trauma, intact extraocular movements, no coughing or wheezing, regular heart rate and rhythm, a nontender abdomen to palpation, and normal bowel sounds. No focal neurological deficits were appreciated. She had no rashes, bruises, or skin abrasions on her abdomen or upper extremities.
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