Cases That Test Your Skills

The jealous insomniac

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Mrs. H, age 28, presents with emotional lability, anxiety, and a jealous delusion; she believes her husband and best friend are having an affair. Is it psychosis, or is there another explanation?



CASE Anxious and jealous

Mrs. H, age 28, presents to the emergency department (ED) with pressured speech, emotional lability, loose associations, and echolalia. On physical examination, Mrs. H is noted to have hand tremors. Mrs. H says she has not slept for the past 5 days and is experiencing anxiety and heart palpitations.

She also says that for the past 2 years she has believed that her husband is having an affair with her best friend. However, her current presentation—which she attributes to the alleged affair—began a week before she came to the ED. According to her husband, Mrs. H was “perfectly fine until a week ago” and her symptoms “appeared out of nowhere.” He reports that this has never happened before.

Mrs. H is admitted to the psychiatry unit. The nursing team reports that on the first night, Mrs. H was “running and screaming on the unit, out of control,” and was “tearful, manicky, and dysphoric.”

Mrs. H has no significant medical or psychiatric history. Her family history is significant for hyperthyroidism in her mother and maternal grandmother. Mrs. H says she smokes cigarettes (1 pack/d) but denies alcohol or illicit drug use.

Mrs. H’s thyroid panel results

EVALUATION A telling thyroid panel

Mrs. H undergoes laboratory testing, including a complete blood count, comprehensive metabolic panel, and thyroid panel due to her family history of thyroid-related disorders. The thyroid panel shows the presence of the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) receptor antibody; a low TSH level; elevated triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) levels, with T3 > T4; elevated thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibody; and elevated thyroglobulin antibody (Table 1). A scan shows the thyroid gland to be normal/top-normal size and is read by radiology to be indicative of a resolving thyroiditis vs Graves’ disease. An electrocardiogram indicates a heart rate of 139 beats per minute.

The authors’ observations

Mrs. H fits the presentation of psychosis secondary to Graves’ disease. However, our differential consisted of thyroiditis, brief psychotic disorder, delusional disorder (jealous type), and bipolar mania.

Brief psychotic disorder, bipolar mania, and delusional disorder were better explained by Graves’ disease, and Mrs. H’s jealous delusion resulted in functional impairment, which eliminated delusional disorder. Her family history of hyper­thyroidism, as well as her sex and history of tobacco use, supported the diagnosis of Graves’ disease. Although Mrs. H did not experience goiter, ophthalmopathy, or dermopathy, which are common signs and symptoms of Graves’ disease (Table 2), she did present with irritability, insomnia, tachycardia, and a hand tremor. Her psychiatric symptoms included anxiety, emotional lability and, most importantly, psychosis. Her laboratory results included the presence of the TSH-receptor antibody, a low TSH level, and elevated T3 and T4 levels (T3>T4), confirming the diagnosis of early-onset Graves’ disease.

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