Cases That Test Your Skills

Depression, or something else?

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When considering treatment options for Ms. A, alcohol withdrawal was unlikely given the remote history of alcohol use, low alcohol blood level, and lack of evidence of unstable vital signs or tremor. Although she might have benefited from inpatient psychiatric treatment, this needed to wait until there was a definitive treatment plan for her brain tumor. Finally, although a paraneoplastic syndrome, such as limbic encephalitis, could be causing her psychiatric symptoms, this scenario is less likely with non-small–cell lung cancer.

Although uncommon, CNS tumors can present with psychiatric symptoms as the only manifestation. This is more likely when a patient exhibits new-onset or atypical symptoms, or fails to respond to standard psychiatric treatment.4 Case reports have described patients with brain tumors being misdiagnosed as having a primary psychiatric condition, which delays treatment of their CNS cancer.2 Additionally, frontal and limbic tumors are more likely to present with psychiatric manifestations; up to 90% of patients exhibit altered mental status or personality changes, as did Ms. A.1,4 Clearly, it is easier to identify patients with psychiatric symptoms resulting from a brain tumor when they also present with focal neurologic deficits or systemic symptoms, such as headache or nausea and vomiting. Ms. A presented with severe headaches, which is what led to her early imaging and prompt diagnosis.

Numerous proposed mechanisms might account for the psychiatric symptoms that occur during the course of a brain tumor, including direct injury to neuronal cells, secretion of hormones or other tumor-derived substances, and peri-ictal phenomena.3

TREATMENT Tumor is removed, but memory is impaired

Ms. A is scheduled for craniotomy and surgical resection of the frontal mass. Prior to surgery, Ms. A shows interest in improving her health, cooperates with staff, and seeks her daughter’s input on treatment. One week after admission, Ms. A has her mass resected, which is confirmed on biopsy to be a lung metastasis. Post-surgery, Ms. A receives codeine, 30 mg every 6 hours as needed, for pain; she continues dexamethasone, 4 mg IV every 6 hours, for brain edema and levetiracetam, 500 mg twice a day, for seizure prophylaxis.

On Day 2 after surgery, Ms. A attempts to elope. When she is approached by a psychiatrist on the treatment team, she does not recognize him. Although her long-term memory seems intact, she is unable to remember the details of recent events, including her medical and surgical treatments.

Continue to: The authors' observations

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