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Link: Assessment of altered mental status

Altered mental status (AMS) is a general term used to describe various disorders of mental functioning that can range from slight confusion to coma. [1] Given the vagueness of the term, it is imperative to understand its key components before considering a differential diagnosis. Fundamentally, mental status is a combination of the patient’s level of consciousness (i.e., attentiveness) and cognition (i.e., mental processes or thoughts); patients may have disorders of one or both. [2] For example, patients with meningitis may have impaired consciousness (i.e., altered sensorium, decreased attentiveness) with intact cognition, whereas patients with dementia may have a normal level of consciousness with impaired cognition. However, more frequently, patients exhibit altered levels of consciousness plus cognition: for example, with delirium, a relatively common and sometimes fatal cause of AMS.

This article discusses “altered mental status” which is often listed as a symptom of encephalopathy. The full article can be found at http://bestpractice.bmj.com/best-practice/monograph/843.html.

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