Altered mental status (peds)

This page is for pediatric patients. For adult patients, see: altered mental status


  • Both cerebral cortices must be affected to cause altered mental status
  • Must quickly determine if coma or lethargy is from diffuse or focal impairment

Clinical Features

  • Depends on cause
    • Diffuse brain dysfunction - lack of focal findings
    • Focal brain dysfunction - hemiparesis, loss of motor tone, loss of ocular reflexes
  • Important to differentiate diffuse brain dysfunction from localized lesion as a patient may appear confused due to visual deficit, dysphasia, etc.

Differential Diagnosis

A  Alcohol O  Opioids
Acid-base and metabolic disorders U  Uremia
  Diabetes mellitus   Chronic renal failure
  Dehydration   Hemolytic-uremic syndrome
  Hypercapnia T  Trauma
  Hepatic failure   General trauma with hypovolemia
  Hypoxia   Head injury
  Inborn errors of metabolism   Mass lesion
Arrhythmia and cardiogenic causes   Cerebral edema
  Ventricular fibrillation   Cerebrovascular accident
  Adams-Stokes attack   Electric shock
  Aortic stenosis   Decompression sickness
  Pericardial tamponade Tumor
E  Encephalopathy Hyperthermia, hypothermia
  Hypertensive encephalopathy I  Infection
  Reye syndrome   Meningitis
  Pediatric shock|Hemorrhagic shock]] and encephalopathy syndrome   Encephalitis
  Brain abscess
  Postimmunization encephalopathy   Visceral larva migrans
  Disseminated encephalomyelitis   Severe systemic infection
  Human immunodeficiency virus disease Intracerebral vascular disorders
  Subarachnoid hemorrhage
Endocrinopathy   Venous thrombosis
  Addison's disease   Arterial thrombosis
  Congenital adrenal hyperplasia   Intracerebral or intraventricular hemorrhage
  Cushing syndrome   Cerebral embolus
  Pheochromocytoma   Acute infantile hemiplegia
  Hepatic porphyrias   Acute confusional migraine
Electrolyte abnormalities   Moyamoya malformation
  [Na+], [Ca2+], [Mg2+], PO4
P  Poisoning
I  Insulin Psychogenic unresponsiveness
  Hypoglycemia S  Seizure
  Ketotic hypoglycemia VP shunt malfunction



  • Labs
    • Glucose, CBC, chem, UA, CSF, LFT, utox, VBG, BAL, thyroid, Calcium (ionized)
  • ECG
  • Neuroimaging
  • XR
  • UA


See Also

External Links


  1. Source APLS page 182, 5th ed.