Associated Neurological Findings

Cerebral. The scope of potential physical findings related to lesions of the cerebral cortex in patients with altered awareness is itself the subject of several texts. Rather than attempting to perform specific tests of cortical function in these patients, one should concentrate on (1) using the neurological examination to identify lateralized lesions that may be affecting consciousness by shifting the diencephalon, and (2) detecting focal dysfunction that may be misinterpreted as altered consciousness (e.g., a patient with receptive aphasia who is misdiagnosed as confused or psychotic).

Cranial Nerves. In addition to the eye movements discussed earlier, the cranial nerve examination is crucial for the detection of brain stem lesions. Fundoscopic examination may also provide a clue to the presence of elevated ICP. Conscious patients may exhibit nystagmus with a variety of intoxications. In anyone with a confusional state, detection of altered eye movements should prompt consideration of Wernicke's encephalopathy (see ChapterJO ).

Motor/Reflexes/CerebeNar/Gait. Asterixis is a nonspecific sign of bilateral cortical dysfunction. Hemiparesis indicates a lesion of the upper motor neuron paths and may suggest either a contralateral cortical or paramedian brain stem lesion. Quadriplegia suggests a midline brain stem lesion. Signs of cerebellar dysfunction are unusual in patients with cerebellar infarcts or hemorrhages, which alter consciousness by producing brain stem compression or obstructive hydrocephalus. Finding cerebellar dysfunction or abnormal gait in a confused patient should raise the possibility of nutritional deficiencies (e.g., Wernicke's encephalopathy, vitamin B 12 deficiency) or intoxications (see Chapters.39 , 40 , and 55 ).

Autonomic Nervous System. Autonomic instability can be both a cause and an effect of coma. In lesions affecting the descending sympathetic pathways from the hypothalamus to the brain stem, Horner's syndrome with a mildly constricted pupil ipsilateral to the lesion can be seen. Whereas diencephalic lesions are particularly associated with erratic changes in autonomic stability, the most common causes of coma with marked dysautonomia are intoxication and drug overdose (see Chapters 38 and 55 ).

Neurovascular System. Because cardiac and vascular disease are commonly associated with coma, a thorough examination of these systems is essential. Arrhythmias, specifically atrial fibrillation, are associated with emboli that can shower the cortices and provoke multifocal bilateral cerebral dysfunction, leading to coma. The large vessels of the neck should be examined for evidence of carotid disease. The funduscopic examination likewise complements the neurovascular examination in detecting disease that affects central nervous system vasculature.

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