To what extent can clinical characteristics be used to distinguish encephalitis from encephalopathy of other causes? Results from a prospective observational study.
BMC Infect Dis. 2019 Jan 22;19(1):80
Authors: Quist-Paulsen E, Kran AB, Lindland ES, Ellefsen K, Sandvik L, Dunlop O, Ormaasen V
BACKGROUND: Recognizing patients with encephalitis may be challenging. The cardinal symptom, encephalopathy, has a wide array of differential diagnoses. In this prospective study we aimed to explore the etiology of encephalitis and to assess the diagnostic accuracy of symptoms and clinical findings in patients with encephalitis in an encephalopathic population.
METHODS: Patients with acute onset of encephalopathy (n = 136) were prospectively enrolled from January 2014-December 2015 at Oslo University Hospital, Ullevaal. Clinical and biochemical characteristics of patients who met the case definition of encephalitis were compared to patients with encephalopathy of other causes.
RESULTS: Among 136 patients with encephalopathy, 19 (14%) met the case-definition of encephalitis. For 117 patients other causes of encephalopathy were found, infection outside the CNS was the most common differential diagnosis. Etiology of encephalitis was confirmed in 53% (4 bacterial, 4 viral, 1 parasitic, and 1 autoimmune). Personality change, nausea, fever, focal neurology, recent travel history, and low inflammation markers were significantly more abundant in patients with encephalitis, but the diagnostic accuracy for individual parameters were low (area under the curve (AUC) < 0.7). The combination of fever (OR = 6.6, 95% CI, 1.6-28), nausea (OR = 8.9, 95% CI, 1.7-46) and a normal level of ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate < 17 mm/hr, OR = 6.9, 95% CI, 1.5-33) was significant in multivariate analysis with an AUC (area under the curve) of 0.85 (95% CI, 0.76-0.94). Moderately increased pleocytosis in CSF (5-100 × 106/L) further increased the diagnostic accuracy of this combination, AUC 0.90 (95% CI, 0.81-0.98).
CONCLUSIONS: There is a wide diversity in differential diagnoses in patients with encephalopathy, and no single symptom or finding can be used to predict encephalitis with high accuracy in this group. The combination of fever, nausea and a low ESR in an encephalopathic population, increased the diagnostic accuracy of encephalitis compared to solitary parameters. The triad could be a useful clinical tool for early diagnosis of encephalitis, and these patients should be considered for further diagnostics such as lumbar puncture (LP).
PMID: 30669985 [PubMed - in process]