Seizure differential diagnosis

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Differentiating Seizure from other Conditions

It can be difficult to distinguish a seizure from other conditions causing a collapse, abnormal movements or other seizure manifestations. A 2007 evidence-based review from the American Academy of Neurology and the American Epilepsy Society recommends an electroencephalogram (EEG, brain wave activity) and brain imaging with CT scan or MRI scan in the work-up of adults presenting with a first apparently unprovoked seizure. Blood tests, lumbar puncture or toxicology screening can be helpful in specific circumstances suggestive of an underlying cause like meningitis or drug overdose, but there is insufficient evidence to support their routine use in the work-up of an adult with an apparently unprovoked first seizure.[1]

Differentiating a seizure from other conditions such as syncope can be difficult. In addition, 5% of patients with a positive tilt table test may have seizure-like activity that seems to be due to cerebral hypoxia.[2]

As seizures have a differential diagnosis, it is common for patients to be simultaneously investigated for cardiac and endocrine causes. Checking glucose levels, for example, is a mandatory action in the management of seizures as hypoglycemia may cause seizures, and failure to administer glucose would be harmful to the patient. Other causes typically considered are syncope and cardiac arrhythmias, and occasionally, panic attacks and cataplexy. For more information, see non-epileptic seizures.

Neurosyphilis can present with seizures and must be differentiated from other causes of seizures.[3]


Diseases Symptoms Physical Examination Past medical history Diagnostic tests Other Findings
Headache LOC Motor weakness Abnormal sensory Motor Deficit Sensory deficit Speech difficulty Gait abnormality Cranial nerves CT /MRI CSF Findings Gold standard test
Meningitis + - - - - + + - - History of fever and malaise - Leukocytes,

Protein

↓ Glucose

CSF analysis[4] Fever, neck

rigidity

Encephalitis + + +/- +/- - - + +/- + History of fever and malaise + Leukocytes, ↓ Glucose CSF PCR Fever, seizures, focal neurologic abnormalities
Brain tumor[5] + - - - + + + - + Weight loss, fatigue + Cancer cells[6] MRI Cachexia, gradual progression of symptoms
Hemorrhagic stroke + + + + + + + + - Hypertension + - CT scan without contrast[7][8] Neck stiffness
Subdural hemorrhage + + + + + - - - + Trauma, fall + Xanthochromia[9] CT scan without contrast[7][8] Confusion, dizziness, nausea, vomiting
Neurosyphilis[10][3] + - + + + + - + - STIs + Leukocytes and protein CSF VDRL-specifc

CSF FTA-Ab -sensitive[11]

Blindness, confusion, depression,

Abnormal gait

Complex or atypical migraine + - + + - - + - - Family history of migraine - - Clinical assesment Presence of aura, nausea, vomiting
Hypertensive encephalopathy + + - - - - + + - Hypertension + - Clinical assesment Delirium, cortical blindness, cerebral edema, seizure
Wernicke’s encephalopathy - + - - - + + + + History of alcohal abuse - - Clinical assesment and lab findings Ophthalmoplegia, confusion
CNS abscess + + - - + + + - - History of drug abuse, endocarditis, immunosupression + leukocytes, glucose and protien MRI is more sensitive and specific High grade fever, fatigue,nausea, vomiting
Drug toxicity - + - + + + - + - - - - Drug screen test Lithium, Sedatives, phenytoin, carbamazepine
Conversion disorder + + + + + + + + History of emotional stress - - Diagnosis of exclusion Tremors, blindness, difficulty swallowing
Metabolic disturbances (electrolyte imbalance, hypoglycemia) - + + + + + - - + - - Hypoglycemia, hypo and hypernatremia, hypo and hyperkalemia Depends on the cause Confusion, seizure, palpitations, sweating, dizziness, hypoglycemia
Multiple sclerosis exacerbation - - + + - + + + + History of relapses and remissions + CSF IgG levels

(monoclonal bands)

Clinical assesment and MRI [12] Blurry vision, urinary incontinence, fatigue
Seizure + + - - + + - - + Previous history of seizures - Mass lesion Clinical assesment and EEG [13] Confusion, apathy, irritability,


References

  1. Krumholz A, Wiebe S, Gronseth G, Shinnar S, Levisohn P, Ting T, Hopp J, Shafer P, Morris H, Seiden L, Barkley G, French J; Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology; American Epilepsy Society. Practice Parameter: evaluating an apparent unprovoked first seizure in adults (an evidence-based review): report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Epilepsy Society. Neurology 2007; 69(21): 1996-2007. PMID 18025394
  2. Passman R, Horvath G, Thomas J; et al. (2003). "Clinical spectrum and prevalence of neurologic events provoked by tilt table testing". Arch. Intern. Med. 163 (16): 1945–8. doi:10.1001/archinte.163.16.1945. PMID 12963568.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Berger JR, Dean D (2014). "Neurosyphilis". Handb Clin Neurol. 121: 1461–72. doi:10.1016/B978-0-7020-4088-7.00098-5. PMID 24365430.
  4. Carbonnelle E (2009). "[Laboratory diagnosis of bacterial meningitis: usefulness of various tests for the determination of the etiological agent]". Med Mal Infect. 39 (7–8): 581–605. doi:10.1016/j.medmal.2009.02.017. PMID 19398286.
  5. Morgenstern LB, Frankowski RF (1999). "Brain tumor masquerading as stroke". J Neurooncol. 44 (1): 47–52. PMID 10582668.
  6. Weston CL, Glantz MJ, Connor JR (2011). "Detection of cancer cells in the cerebrospinal fluid: current methods and future directions". Fluids Barriers CNS. 8 (1): 14. doi:10.1186/2045-8118-8-14. PMC 3059292. PMID 21371327.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Birenbaum D, Bancroft LW, Felsberg GJ (2011). "Imaging in acute stroke". West J Emerg Med. 12 (1): 67–76. PMC 3088377. PMID 21694755.
  8. 8.0 8.1 DeLaPaz RL, Wippold FJ, Cornelius RS, Amin-Hanjani S, Angtuaco EJ, Broderick DF; et al. (2011). "ACR Appropriateness Criteria® on cerebrovascular disease". J Am Coll Radiol. 8 (8): 532–8. doi:10.1016/j.jacr.2011.05.010. PMID 21807345.
  9. Lee MC, Heaney LM, Jacobson RL, Klassen AC (1975). "Cerebrospinal fluid in cerebral hemorrhage and infarction". Stroke. 6 (6): 638–41. PMID 1198628.
  10. Liu LL, Zheng WH, Tong ML, Liu GL, Zhang HL, Fu ZG; et al. (2012). "Ischemic stroke as a primary symptom of neurosyphilis among HIV-negative emergency patients". J Neurol Sci. 317 (1–2): 35–9. doi:10.1016/j.jns.2012.03.003. PMID 22482824.
  11. Ho EL, Marra CM (2012). "Treponemal tests for neurosyphilis--less accurate than what we thought?". Sex Transm Dis. 39 (4): 298–9. doi:10.1097/OLQ.0b013e31824ee574. PMC 3746559. PMID 22421697.
  12. Giang DW, Grow VM, Mooney C, Mushlin AI, Goodman AD, Mattson DH; et al. (1994). "Clinical diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The impact of magnetic resonance imaging and ancillary testing. Rochester-Toronto Magnetic Resonance Study Group". Arch Neurol. 51 (1): 61–6. PMID 8274111.
  13. Manford M (2001). "Assessment and investigation of possible epileptic seizures". J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 70 Suppl 2: II3–8. PMC 1765557. PMID 11385043.




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