How can I distinguish serotonin syndrome from neuroleptic malignant syndrome in my patient with fever and mental status changes?

Although there is often an overlap between the clinical presentation of serotonin syndrome (SS) and neuromuscular malignant syndrome (NMS), start out with the physical exam. The presence of hyperreflexia, tremors, clonus, hyperactive bowel sounds, and dilated pupils should make you think of SS, whereas hyporeflexia, “lead-pipe” rigidity in all muscle groups, normal pupils, and normal or decreased bowels sounds suggest NMS in the proper context.1-3 The most sensitive and specific sign of SS is clonus.1

Aside from physical exam findings, symptom onset in relation to the implicated drug may also be important. Onset of symptoms within 12-24 h of the initiation or change of an implicated drug suggests SS, whereas a more delayed onset (often 1-3 days) is more supportive of NMS.1-3  SS also tends to resolve within a few days after discontinuation of the offending agent, while NMS usually takes 9-14 days to resolve. 1-3 Although both SS and NMS can be associated with leukocytosis, elevated CK and low serum iron levels are more common in NMS.2

SS is caused by excess serotonin due to a variety of mechanisms—therefore medications— including inhibition of serotonin uptake ( eg, serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants, metoclopramide, ondansetron), inhibition of serotonin metabolism (seen with monoamine oxidase inhibitors , including linezolid, methylene blue), increased serotonin release (eg stimulants, including amphetamines, cocaine), and activation of serotonin receptors (eg, lithium), among others. 2

As for medications that can cause NMS, look for neuroleptic agents (eg, haloperidol, olanzapine, quetiapine, risperidone), as well as antiemeics, such as metoclopramide and promethazine.2

 

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that several supplements/herbal products have been associated with serotonin syndrome, including L-tryptophan, St. John’s wort and ginseng?1

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References

  1. Bienvenu OJ, Neufeld K, Needham DM. Treatment of four psychiatric emergencies in the intensive care unit. Crit Care Med 2012;40: 2662-70. https://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00003246-201209000-00017
  2. Turner AAH, Kim JJ, McCarron RM, et al. Differentiating serotonin syndrome and neuroleptic malignant syndrome. Current Psychiatry 2019;18: 36. https://www.mdedge.com/psychiatry/article/193418/schizophrenia-other-psychotic-disorders/differentiating-serotonin-syndrome
  3. Dosi R, Ambaliya A, Joshi H, et al. Serotonin syndrome versus neuroleptic malignant syndrome: a challenging clinical quandary. BMJ Case Rep 2014. Doi:10.1136/bcr-2014-204154. https://casereports.bmj.com/content/2014/bcr-2014-204154

 

How can I distinguish serotonin syndrome from neuroleptic malignant syndrome in my patient with fever and mental status changes?

My patient with sepsis and bacteremia has an extremely high serum Creatine kinase (CK) level. Can his infection be causing rhabdomyolysis?

 Absolutely! Although trauma, toxins, exertion, and medications are often listed as common causes of rhabdomyolysis, infectious etiologies should not be overlooked as they may account for 5% to 30% or more of rhabdomyolysis cases (1,2).

 

Rhabdomyolysis tends to be associated with a variety of infections, often severe, involving the respiratory tract, as well as urinary tract, heart and meninges, and may be caused by a long list of pathogens (1).  Among bacterial causes, Legionella sp. (“classic” pathogen associated with rhabdomyolysis), Streptococcus sp. (including S. pneumoniae), Salmonella sp, Staphylococcus aureus, Francisella tularensis have been cited frequently (3).  Some series have reported a preponderance of aerobic gram-negatives such as Klebsiella sp., Pseudomonas sp. and E. coli  (1,2).   Among viral etiologies, influenza virus, human immunodeficiency virus, and coxsackievirus are commonly cited (2,3).  Fungal and protozoal infections (eg, malaria) may also be associated with rhabdomyolysis (5).

 

So how might sepsis cause rhabdomyolysis? Several potential mechanisms have been implicated, including tissue hypoxemia due to sepsis, direct muscle invasion by pathogens (eg, S. aureus, streptococci, Salmonella sp.), toxin generation (eg, Legionella), cytokine-mediated muscle cell toxicity (eg, aerobic gram-negatives) as well as muscle ischemia due to shock (1,5).

 

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that among patients with HIV infection, infections are the most common cause (39%) of rhabdomyolysis (6)? 

 

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References

 

1. Kumar AA, Bhaskar E, Shantha GPS, et al. Rhabdomyolysis in community acquired bacterial sepsis—A retrospective cohort study. PLoS ONE 2009;e7182. Doi:10.1371/journa.pone.0007182. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19787056.

2. Blanco JR, Zabaza M, Sacedo J, et al. Rhabdomyolysis of infectious and noninfectious causes. South Med J 2002;95:542-44. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12005014

3. Singh U, Scheld WM. Infectious etiologies of rhabdomyolysis:three case reports and review. Clin Infect Dis 1996;22:642-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8729203

4. Shih CC, Hii HP, Tsao CM, et al. Therapeutic effects of procainamide on endotoxin-induced rhabdomyolysis in rats. PLOS ONE 2016. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150319. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26918767

5. Khan FY. Rhabdomyolysis: a review of the literature. NJM 2009;67:272-83. http://www.njmonline.nl/getpdf.php?id=842

6. Koubar SH, Estrella MM, Warrier R, et al. Rhabdomyolysis in an HIV cohort: epidemiology, causes and outcomes. BMC Nephrology 2017;18:242. DOI 10.1186/s12882-017-0656-9. https://bmcnephrol.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s12882-017-0656-9

My patient with sepsis and bacteremia has an extremely high serum Creatine kinase (CK) level. Can his infection be causing rhabdomyolysis?