My patient with no known liver disease appears to have bilateral asterixis. What other causes should I consider?

Although originally described in 1949 in patients with liver disease and labelled as “liver flap”, numerous other causes of asterixis exist aside from severe liver disease (1,2). As early as 1950s, asterixis was observed among some patients with heart failure and pulmonary insufficiency but without known significant liver disease (3). Azotemia has also been associated with asterixis.

Don’t forget about medication-associated asterixis . Commonly used drugs such as gabapentin, pregabalin, phenytoin, and metoclopramide have been associated with asterixis (1,4) . Even antibiotics such as ceftazidime and high dose trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole may be culprits (1,5). There are many psychiatric drugs including lithium, carbamazepine, clozapine, and valproic acid that have been implicated (1,6) as well. Some reviews have also included hypomagnesemia and hypokalemia on the list of causes of asterixis (1).

Although asterixis is essentially a negative myoclonus with episodic loss of electrical activity of muscle and its tone, its exact pathophysiology remains unclear (7). 


Bonus Pearl: Did you know that the origin of the word asterixis is An (negative)-iso (equal)-sterixis (solidity) which was shortened by Foley and Adams, its original discoverers, to what we now refer to as “asterixis” (1).


1. Agarwal R, Baid R. Asterixis. J Postgrad Med 1016;62:115-7. 2. Pal G, Lin MM, Laureno R. Asterixis: a study of 103 patients. Metab Brain Dis; 2014:29:813-24.
3. Conn HO. Aterixis—Its occurrence in chronic pulmonary disease, with a commentary on its general mechanism. N Engl J Med 1958;259:564-569.
4. Kim JB, Jung JM, Park MH. Negative myoclonus induced by gabapentin and pregabalin: a case series and systemic literature review. J Neurol Sci 2017;382:36-9.
5. Gray DA, Foo D. Reversible myoclonus, asterixis, and tremor associated with high dose trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole: a case report. J Spinal Cord Med 2016; Vol. 39 (1), pp. 115-7.
6. Nayak R, Pandurangi A, Bhogale G, et al. Aterixis (flapping tremors) as an outcome of complex psychotropic drug interaction. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 2012;24: E26-7. Ugawa Y, Shimpo T, Mannen T. Physiological analysis of asterixis: silent period locked averaging. J Neurol Neurosurg Psych 1989;52:89-9.


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My patient with no known liver disease appears to have bilateral asterixis. What other causes should I consider?

My patient with cocaine and alcohol addiction is admitted with repeated convulsions during which he seems totally conscious. What could I be missing?

Consider strychnine poisoning as a cause of recurrent generalized tonic clonic seizures and muscle spasm with clear sensorium either during or following the episode. 1-4 In contrast to the cortical source of most seizures, convulsions due to strychnine poisoning are due to the blocking of the action of spinal and brain-stem inhibitory neurons resulting in overwhelming muscle rigidity, not unlike that seen in tetanus.

Although strychnine was found in various tonics and cathartic agents and was a common cause of accidental death in children under 5 years of age in early 20th century, it is still used in various rodenticides and pesticides.3  Today, it may be used intentionally in suicide attempts as well as an adulterant in street drugs, such as amphetamines, heroin and especially cocaine. 1,3,5

The initial symptoms of strychnine poisoning include nervousness, a hyperalert state, and confusion. These symptoms may be followed by severe muscle rigidity throughout the body often in response to minimal stimuli, such as physical contact, bright lights, noise and medical procedures.3, 6,7  Interestingly, strychnine also has an excitatory action on the medulla and enhances the sensation of touch, smell, hearing and sight.6  The cause of death is usually respiratory arrest due to prolonged muscle spasms, often complicated by rhabdomyolysis and associated renal failure.1

So among the numerous causes of seizures, think of strychnine as another potential cause when there is no concurrent loss of consciousness or the expected postictal state.

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that strychnine may be present in street drugs with a variety of names such as “back breakers”, “homicide”, “red rock opium”, “red stuff” and “spike”? 7


  1. Wood DM, Webser E, Martinez D, et al. Case report: survival after deliberate strychnine self-poisoning, with toxicokinetic data. Critical Care 2002;6:456-9.
  2. Santhosh GJ, Joseph W, Thomas M. Strychnine poisoning. J Assoc Physicians India 2003;51:736.
  3. Libenson MH, Young JM. Case records of Massachusetts General Hospital. A 16 years boy with an altered mental status and muscle rigidity. N Engl J Med 2001;344:1232-9.
  4. Smith BA. Strychnine poisoning. J Emerg Med 1990;8: 321-25.
  5. O’Callaghan WG, Ward M, Lavelle P, et al. Unusual strychnine poisoning and its treatment: report of eight cases. B Med J 1982;285:478.
  6. Burn DJ, Tomson CRV, Seviour J, et al. Strychnine poisoning as an unusual cause of convulsions. Postgrad Med J 1989;65:563-64.
  7. Radosavljevic J, Jeffries WS, Peter JV. Intentional strychnine use and overdose—an entity of the past? Crit Care Resusc 2006;8: 260-61.

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My patient with cocaine and alcohol addiction is admitted with repeated convulsions during which he seems totally conscious. What could I be missing?

My patient with headache following a fall has a pink cerebrospinal fluid but the lab reports it xanthochromic. Isn’t xanthochromia supposed to describe yellow discoloration only?

Although xanthochromia literally means yellow color, when it comes to describing the color of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a more liberal—but perhaps misleading— definition of xanthochromia extending to other colors, such as pink and orange, is commonly found in the literature. 1-5

In the presence of red blood cells (RBCs) in the subarachnoid space, as seen in subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), 3 pigments are formed by the breakdown of hemoglobin in the CSF: oxyhemoglobin, methemoglobin, and bilirubin. Oxyhemoglobin is typically red but has also been reported to appear orange or orange-yellow with dilution.6  Methemoglobin is brown and bilirubin is yellow. Of these pigments, only bilirubin can be formed solely from in vivo conversion, while oxyhemoglobin and methemoglobin may also form after CSF has been obtained (eg, in tubes).  Due to the suboptimal reliability of visual inspection, some have argued for the routine use of spectrophotometry of the CSF instead in patients with suspected SAH.7

In our patient, the “pink xanthochromia” may be related to RBC breakdown either due to a SAH or as a result of hemolysis in the sample tubes themselves, especially if there was a delay in processing the specimen. Even if he had “true xanthochromia” with yellow discoloration of CSF, make sure to exclude other causes besides SAH, such as high CSF protein, hyperbilirubinemia, rifampin therapy, and high carotenoid intake (eg, carrots).



  1. Seehusen DA, Reeves MM, Fomin DA. Cerebrospinal fluid analysis. Am Fam Phys 2003;68:1103-8.
  2. Edlow JA, Bruner KS, Horowitz GL. Xanthochromia. A survey of laboratory methodology and its clinical implications. Arch Pthol Lab Med 2002;126:413-15.
  3. Lo BM, Quinn SM. Gross xanthochromia on lumbar puncture may not represent an acute subarachnoid hemorrhage. Am J Emerg Med 2009;27:621-23.
  4. Koenig M. Approach to the patient with bloody or pigmented cerebrospinal fluid. In Irani DN, ed, Cerebrospinal fluid in clinical practice. 2009.
  5. Welch H, Hasbun R. Bacterial infections of the central nervous system. In Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 2010.
  6. Barrows LJ, Hunter FT, Banker BQ. The nature and clinical significance of pigments in the cerebrospinal fluid. Brain 1955; 58: 59-80.
  7. Cruickshank A, Auld P, Beetham R, et al. Revised national guidelines for analysis of cerebrospinal fluid for bilirubin in suspected subarachnoid haemorrhage. Ann Clin Biochem 2008;45:238-44.

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My patient with headache following a fall has a pink cerebrospinal fluid but the lab reports it xanthochromic. Isn’t xanthochromia supposed to describe yellow discoloration only?

My patient with cirrhosis now has an upper gastrointestinal bleed (UGIB) with hepatic encephalopathy (HE). What’s the connection between UGIB and HE?

Hepatic encephalopathy (HE) may be precipitated by a variety of factors including infection, hypovolemia, electrolyte imbalance (eg, hyponatremia, hypokalemia), metabolic alkalosis, sedatives, and of course UGIB. 1-3

Ammonia is often considered to play a central role in the the pathogenesis of HE, particularly when associated with UGIB. The ammoniagenic potential of UGIB is primarily attributed to the presence of hemoglobin protein in the intestinal tract. One-half of the ammoniagenesis originates from amino acid metabolism (mainly glutamine) in the mucosa of the small bowel, while the other half is due to the splitting of urea by the resident bacteria in the colon (eg, Proteus spp., Enterobacteriaceae, and anerobes).1,2

A large protein load in the GI tract, as occurs in UGIB, may result in hyperammonemia in patients with cirrhosis due to the limited capacity of the liver to convert ammonia to urea through the urea cycle as well as by the shunting of blood around hepatic sinusoids. Recent studies, however, also implicate the kidneys as an important source of ammonia in this setting, further compounding HE.3

It’s important to stress that ammonia is not likely to be the only mediator of HE. Enhanced production of cytokines due to infection or other inflammatory states, neurosteroids, endogenous benzodiazepines, and other bacterial byproducts may also play an important role in precipitating HE.2,4-6  So stay tuned!

Bonus pearl: Did you know that proinflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor-alpha and inerleukin-6 increase ammonia permeability across central nervous system-derived endothelial cells? 7



  1. Olde Damink SWM, Jalan R, Deutz NEP, et al. The kidney plays a major role in the hyperammonemia seen after simulated or actual GI bleeding in patients with cirrhosis. Hepatology 2003;37:1277-85.
  2. Frederick RT. Current concepts in the pathophysiology and management of hepatic encephalopathy. Gastroenterol Hepatol 2011;7:222-233.
  3. Tapper EB, Jiang ZG, Patwardhan VR. Refining the ammonia hypothesis: a physiology-driven approach to the treatment of hepatic encephalopathy. Mayo Clin Proc 2015;90:646-58.
  4. Shawcross DL, Davies NA, Williams R, et al. Systemic inflammatory response exacerbates the neuropsychological effects of induced hyperammonemia in cirrhosis. J Hepatol 2004;40:247-254.
  5. Shawcross DL, Sharifi Y, Canavan JB, et al. Infection and systemic inflammation, not ammonia, are associated with grade ¾ hepatic encephalopathy, but not mortality in controls. J Hepatol 2011;54:640-49.
  6. Shawcross D, Jalan R. The pathophysiologic basis of hepatic encephalopathy: central role for ammonia and inflammation.Cell Mol Life Sci 2005;62:2295-2304.
  7. Duchini A, Govindarajan S, Santucci M, et al. Effects of tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-6 on fluid-phase permeability and ammonia diffusion in CNS-derived endothelial cells. J Investig Med 1996;44:474-82.

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My patient with cirrhosis now has an upper gastrointestinal bleed (UGIB) with hepatic encephalopathy (HE). What’s the connection between UGIB and HE?

My patient with cirrhosis has hypohonia and cogwheel rigidity. Is there a connection between cirrhosis and Parkinson’s disease?

There is a high prevalence of extra-pyramidal or Parkinson-like (PL) clinical findings in patients with cirrhosis. In fact, over 75% of patients with cirrhosis may exhibit PL signs, such as tremor, rigidity, and akinesia, with 88% also showing hyperintensity in the globus pallidus of basal ganglia on T1-weighted brain MRI.1

What’s even more interesting is the similarity between PL clinical and MRI findings among patients with cirrhosis and those with Manganese (Mn) toxicity.2,3 More specifically, similar MRI findings involving the globus pallidus have been reported in Mn-exposed workers, patients with cirrhosis, and those undergoing total parenteral nutrition with excessive Mn replacement. 4 These observations seem more than coincidental as 67% of patients with cirrhosis have been reported to have elevated blood Mn concentrations, with significantly higher levels in patients with previous portacaval anastomoses or transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS).1

Mn-induced parkinsonism is distinguishable from classic Parkinson’s disease in several ways, including the absence of Lewy bodies, more frequent dystonia, and less resting tremor.5 Also, remember that Mn-induced PL disease does NOT respond to L-dopa, a drug used to treat early stages of PD. 5 This finding can be explained by the fact that, in contrast to Parkinson’s disease where many of the dopamine-producing cells in the substantia nigra of the brain degenerate resulting in dopamine deficiency, in Mn-induced PL disease the problem is release of dopamine into synapses not its production.5

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that due to its paramagnetic properties, manganese can be effectively seen by MRI!


  1. Spahr L, Butterworth RF, Fontaine S, et al. Increased blood manganese in cirrhotic patients: relationship to pallidal m agnetic resonance signal hyperintensity and neurological symptoms. Hepatology 1996;24:1116-1120.
  2. Hauser RA, Zesiewicz TA, Rosemurgy AS, et al. Manganese intoxication and chronic liver failure. Ann Neurol 1994;36:871-75.
  3. Krieger S, Jaub M, Jansen O, et al. Neuropsychiatric profile and hyperintense globus pallidus on T1-weighted magnetic resonance images in liver cirrhosis. Gastroenterol 1996;111:147-55.
  4. Lucchini R, Albini E, Placidi D, et al. Brain magnetic resonance imaging and manganese exposure. Neurotoxicity 2000;21:769-75.
  5. Kwakye GF, Paoliello MMB, Mukhopadhyay S, et al. Manganese-induced parkinsonism and Parkinson’s disease: Shared and distinguishable features. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2015;12;7519-40.

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My patient with cirrhosis has hypohonia and cogwheel rigidity. Is there a connection between cirrhosis and Parkinson’s disease?

Is neurotoxicity caused by cefepime common?

The incidence of cefepime-induced neurotoxicity (CIN) has varied from 1% to 15%.1 Potential clinical manifestations of CIN include delirium, impaired level of consciousness, disorientation/agitation, myoclonus, non-convulsive status epilepticus, seizures, and aphasia.1  Many of these signs and symptoms (eg, delirium) are common among hospitalized patients.

Although renal dysfunction and inadequately adjusted dosages are often cited as risk factors, one-half of patients develop suspected CIN despite apparently proper adjustment for renal function.In addition,  several case reports of CIN have involved patients with normal renal function. 2  A study of 1120 patients receiving cefepime found epileptiform discharges in 14 cases, most having normal renal function.3 Of interest, in the same study, the prevalence of epileptiform discharges was 6-fold higher than that of meropenem!

Proposed mechanisms for CIN include its avidity for central nervous system GABA-A receptors (higher than that of many beta-lactam antibiotics) combined with its high concentration in brain tissue.1 Renal impairment, decreased protein binding, and increased organic acid accumulation can increase transfer of cefepime across the blood brain barrier from an expected 10% to up to 45% of its serum concentration, further contributing to its neurotoxicity.4



  1. Appa AA, Jain R, Rakita RM, et al. Characterizing cefepime neurotoxicity: a systematic review. Open Forum Infectious Diseases 2017 Oct 10;4(4):ofx170. doi: 10.1093/ofid/ofx170. eCollection 2017 Fall.
  2. Meillier A, Rahimian D. Cefepime-induced encephalopathy with normal renal function. Oxford Medical Case Reports, 2016;6, 118-120.
  3. Naeije G, Lorent S, Vincent JL, et al. Continuous epileptiform discharges in patients treated with cefpime or meropenem Arch Neurol 2011;68:1303-7.
  4. Payne LE, Gaganon DJ, Riker RR, et al. Cefepime-induced neurotoxicity: a systematic review. Critical Care 017;21:276.


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Is neurotoxicity caused by cefepime common?

200 pearls and counting! Take the Pearls4Peers quiz #2!

Multiple choice (choose 1 answer)
1. Which of the following classes of antibiotics is associated with peripheral neuropathy?
a. Penicillins
b. Cephalosporins
c. Macrolides
d. Quinolones



2. The best time to test for inherited thrombophilia in a patient with acute deep venous thrombosis is…
a. At least 1 week after stopping anticoagulants and a minimum of 3 months of anticoagulation
b. Just before initiating anticoagulants
c. Once anticoagulation takes full effect
d. Any time, if suspected



3. All the following is true regarding brain MRI abnormalities following a seizure, except…
a. They are observed following status epilepticus only
b. They are often unilateral
c. They may occasionally be associated with leptomeningeal contrast enhancement
d. Abnormalities may persist for weeks or months



4. Which of the following is included in the quick SOFA criteria for sepsis?
a. Heart rate
b. Serum lactate
c. Temperature
d. Confusion



5. All of the following regarding iron replacement and infection is true, except…
a. Many common pathogens such as E.coli and Staphylococcus sp. depend on iron for their growth
b. Association of IV iron replacement and increased risk of infection has not been consistently demonstrated
c. A single randomized-controlled trial of IV iron in patients with active infection failed to show increased infectious complications or mortality with replacement
d. All of the above is true


True or false

1. Constipation may precede typical manifestations of Parkinson’s disease by 10 years or more
2. Urine Legionella antigen testing is >90% sensitive in legionnaire’s disease
3. Spontaneous coronary artery dissection should be particularly suspected in males over 50 years of age presenting with acute chest pain
4. Urine dipstick for detection of blood is >90% sensitive in identifying patients with rhabdomyolysis and CK >10,000 U/L
5. Diabetes is an independent risk factor for venous thrombophlebitis




Answer key
Multiple choice questions:1=d; 2=a;3=a;4=d;5=c
True or false questions:1=True; 2,3,4,5=False


200 pearls and counting! Take the Pearls4Peers quiz #2!

My diabetic patient complains of new onset tingling, burning, and numbness in her feet and ankles while taking levofloxacin for sinusitis. Could it be the antibiotic?

Although there are numerous culprits in peripheral neuropathy (PN), fluoroquinolones (FQs) are increasing reported as a potential cause, affecting about 1% of patients. 1

Besides many case reports, couple of large epidemiologic studies support the association between PN and FQs. A case-control pharmacoepidemiologic study of a cohort of men aged 45-80 years without diabetes found that current users of FQs were nearly twice as likely to develop PN (RR 1.83, 95% C.I. 1.49-2.27), with the highest risk found among current new users of FQ.2 The risk appeared similar among the 3 most commonly used FQs (levofloxacin, ciprofloxacin, moxifloxacin).

Another epidemiologic study with “pharmacovigilance analysis” based on the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System found significant disproportionality of PN for FQs compared to many other antibiotics. 3 The median onset of PN after exposure to FQ was 4 days (range 0-91). Contrary to initial reports of the mild and reversible course of FQ-associated PN, 1 study reported that 58% of patients had symptoms lasting greater than 1 year.4`

These findings prompted the FDA to update its boxed warnings for FQs in 2016 to stress the potential rapidity of onset and permanence of FQ-associated PN while strongly discouraging their use in conditions for which alternative therapy exists, such as in acute bacterial sinusitis, acute bacterial exacerbation of chronic bronchitis and uncomplicated UTI.5

So while our patient may have other causes for her neurologic complaints, FQ exposure should also be in the differential!


  1. Dudewich M, Danesh A, Onyima C, et al. Intractable acute pain related to fluoroquinolone-induced peripheral neuropathy. J Pain Pall Care Pharmacotherapy 2017;31:144-7.
  2. Etminan M, Brophy JM, Samii A. Oral fluoroquinolone use and risk of peripheral neuropathy: A pharmacoepidemiologic study.Neurology 2014;83:1261-63.
  3. Ali AK. Peripheral neuropathy and Guillain-Barre syndrome risks associated with exposure to systemic fluorquinolones: a pharmacovigilance analysis. Ann Epidemiol 2014; 24:279-85.
  4. Francis JK, Higgins E. Permanent peripheral neuropathy: A case report on a rare but serious debilitating side-effect of fluroquinolone administration. Journal Investigative Medicine High Impact Case Reports 2014; 1-4. DOI:10.1177/2324709614545225.
  5. FDA.  Accessed December 8, 2017.
My diabetic patient complains of new onset tingling, burning, and numbness in her feet and ankles while taking levofloxacin for sinusitis. Could it be the antibiotic?

Can a seizure cause abnormalities on the brain MRI?

Yes it can, and the MRI abnormalities could represent seizure’s effects on the brain, not the seizure’s structural cause. Seizure-related MRI changes are often associated with status epilepticus, but have also been reported in complex partial status epilepticus.1,2

T2-weighted MRI images may show increased signal intensity at the cortical gray matter, subcortical white matter, or hippocampus. The MRI changes are unilateral about one-half of the cases, while in about 8% of patients leptomeningeal contrast-enhancement may be observed. Partial simple and complex seizures are associated with hippocampal involvement.3

The increased signal intensity following seizures is thought to be due to increased metabolism at the epileptogenic area, which in turn results in increased oxygen consumption, hypoxia, hypercarbia, lactic acidosis, and ultimately vasodilation and edema.

Reversibility of MRI changes following seizures has been noted between 15 and 150 days (average, 62 days). A structural abnormality is more likely the cause of a seizure when the MRI changes do not resolve during this period.3 Therefore, seizure-induced brain-MRI abnormalities remain a diagnosis of exclusion.


  1. Kim JA, Chung JI, Yoon PH, et al. Transient MR signal changes in patients with generalized tonicoclonic seizure or status epilepticus: periictal diffusion-weighted imaging. Am J Neuroradiol 2001; 22:1149–1160
  2. Henry TR, Brunberg DI, Pennell PB, et al. Focal cerebral magnetic resonance changes associated with partial status epilepticus. Epilepsia 1994; 35:35–41
  3. Cianfoni A, Caulo M, Cerase A, et al. Seizure-induced brain lesions: a wide spectrum of variably reversible MRI abnormalities. Eur J Radiol. 2013; 82(11):1964-72.


Contributed by Johan H.L. Boneschansker, MD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA.

Can a seizure cause abnormalities on the brain MRI?

Is prolactin level useful in determining whether my patient with loss of consciousness suffered a seizure?

It depends on the timing of your patient’s presentation!

It is generally held that serum prolactin level peaks within 10-20 min after a generalized tonic-clonic or complex partial seizure and returns to baseline within 2-6 h. Even then, its sensitivity is no more than 50%-60% for these types of seizures.  Elevated PL is also seen in 60%-80% of patients with syncope.1

A report by the Therapeutics and Technology Assessment Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology (2006) concluded that “elevated serum prolactin assay, when measured in the appropriate clinical setting at 10-20 min after a suspected event, is a useful adjunct for the differentiation of generalized tonic-clonic or complex partial seizure from psychogenic non-epileptic seizure among adults or older children (Level B).2 

In contrast, reports of PL increasing for up to 6 h after epileptic seizure or not reaching baseline for 12-18 h can also be found in the literature.3

Although the mechanism for elevation of PL in certain seizures is unknown,  one hypothesis proposes that prolactin is secreted due to the interference with the inhibitory control of hypothalamus by the electrical perturbation of this part of the brain.4  


  1. Nass RD, Sassen R, Elger CE. The role of postictal laboratory blood analyses in the diagnosis and prognosis of seizures. Seizure 2017;47:51-65.
  2. Chen DK, So YT, Fisher RS. Is prolactin a clinically useful measure of epilepsy? Epilepsy Currents 2006;6:78-79.
  3. Siniscalchi A, Gallelli L, Mercuri NB, et al. Serum prolactin levels in repetitive temporal epileptic seizures. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci 2008;12:365-368.
  4. Collins WCJ, Lanigan O, Callaghan N. Plasma prolactin concentrations following epileptic and pseudoseizures. J Neurol Neurosurg Psych 1983; 46:505-8.

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Is prolactin level useful in determining whether my patient with loss of consciousness suffered a seizure?