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. Jon’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?

Should I choose a bactericidal over bacteriostatic antibiotic in the treatment of my patient with pneumonia complicated by bacteremia?

You don’t have too!  Although “bacteriostatic” antibiotics have traditionally been regarded as inferior to “bactericidal” antibiotics in the treatment of serious infections, a 2018 “myth busting” systemic literature review1 concluded that bacteriostatic antibiotics are just as effective against a variety of infections, including pneumonia, non-endocarditis bacteremia, skin and soft tissue infections and genital infections; no conclusion can be made in regards to endocarditis or bacterial meningitis, however, due insufficient clinical evidence.1-3

Interestingly, most of the studies included in the same systemic review showed that bacteriostatic antibiotics were more effective compared to bactericidal antibiotics.1 So, for most infections in hospitalized patients, including those with non-endocarditis bacteremia, the choice of antibiotic among those that demonstrate in vitro susceptibility should not be based on their “cidal” vs “static” label.

Such conclusion should not be too surprising since the definition of bacteriostatic vs bactericidal is based on arbitrary in vitro constructs and not validated by any available in vivo data. In addition, static antibiotics may kill bacteria as rapidly as cidal antibiotics in vitro at higher antibiotic concentrations.3

Another supportive evidence is a 2019 study finding similar efficacy of sequential intravenous-to-oral outpatient antibiotic therapy for MRSA bacteremia compared to continued IV antibiotic therapy despite frequent use of bacteriostatic oral antibiotics (eg, linezolid, clindamycin and doxycycline). 4

 

References

  1. Wald-Dickler N, Holtom P, Spellberg B. Busting the myth of “static vs cidal”: as systemic literature review. Clin Infect Dis 2018;66:1470-4. https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/66/9/1470/4774989
  2. Steigbigel RT, Steigbigel NH. Static vs cidal antibiotics. Clin Infect Dis 2019;68:351-2. https://academic.oup.com/cid/article-abstract/68/2/351/5067395
  3. Wald-Dickler N, Holtom P, Spellberg B. Static vs cidal antibiotics; reply to Steigbigel and Steigbigel. Clin Infect Dis 2019;68:352-3. https://academic.oup.com/cid/article-abstract/68/2/352/5067396?redirectedFrom=fulltext
  4. Jorgensen SCJ, Lagnf AH, Bhatia S, et al. Sequential intravenous-to-oral outpatient antbiotic therapy for MRSA bacteraemia: one step closer.  J Antimicrob Chemother 2019;74:489-98.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30418557

 

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Should I choose a bactericidal over bacteriostatic antibiotic in the treatment of my patient with pneumonia complicated by bacteremia?