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Acute encephalopathy in the ICU: a practical approach.

PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Acute encephalopathy (AE) - which frequently develops in critically ill patients with and without primary brain injury - is defined as an acute process that evolves rapidly and leads to changes in baseline cognitive status, ranging from delirium to coma. The diagnosis, monitoring, and management of AE is challenging. Here, we discuss advances in definitions, diagnostic approaches, therapeutic options, and implications to outcomes of the clinical spectrum of AE in ICU patients without primary brain injury.

RECENT FINDINGS: Understanding and definitions of delirium and coma have evolved. Delirium is a neurocognitive disorder involving impairment of attention and cognition, usually fluctuating, and developing over hours to days. Coma is a state of unresponsiveness, with absence of command following, intelligible speech, or visual pursuit, with no imaging or neurophysiological evidence of cognitive motor dissociation. The CAM-ICU(-7) and the ICDSC are validated, guideline-recommended tools for clinical delirium assessment, with identification of clinical subtypes and stratification of severity. In comatose patients, the roles of continuous EEG monitoring and neuroimaging have grown for the early detection of secondary brain injury and treatment of reversible causes.

SUMMARY: Evidence-based pharmacologic treatments for delirium are limited. Dexmedetomidine is effective for mechanically ventilated patients with delirium, while haloperidol has minimal effect of delirium but may have other benefits. Specific treatments for coma in nonprimary brain injury are still lacking.

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