Toxic Metabolic Encephalopathy in Hospitalized Patients with COVID-19

  
By Jennifer A. Frontera, Kara Melmed, Taolin Fang, Andre Granger, Jessica Lin, Shadi Yaghi, Ting Zhou, Ariane Lewis, Sebastian Kurz, D. Ethan Kahn, Adam de Havenon, Joshua Huang, Barry M. Czeisler, Aaron Lord, Sharon B. Meropol, Andrea B. Troxel, Thomas Wisniewski, Laura Balcer & Steven Galetta
First Online: 16 March 2021

Background
Toxic metabolic encephalopathy (TME) has been reported in 7–31% of hospitalized patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); however, some reports include sedation-related delirium and few data exist on the etiology of TME. We aimed to identify the prevalence, etiologies, and mortality rates associated with TME in severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)-positive patients.

Methods
We conducted a retrospective, multicenter, observational cohort study among patients with reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection hospitalized at four New York City hospitals in the same health network between March 1, 2020, and May 20, 2020. TME was diagnosed in patients with altered mental status off sedation or after an adequate sedation washout. Patients with structural brain disease, seizures, or primary neurological diagnoses were excluded. The coprimary outcomes were the prevalence of TME stratified by etiology and in-hospital mortality (excluding comfort care only patients) assessed by using a multivariable time-dependent Cox proportional hazards models with adjustment for age, race, sex, intubation, intensive care unit requirement, Sequential Organ Failure Assessment scores, hospital location, and date of admission.

Results
Among 4491 patients with COVID-19, 559 (12%) were diagnosed with TME, of whom 435 of 559 (78%) developed encephalopathy immediately prior to hospital admission. The most common etiologies were septic encephalopathy (n = 247 of 559 [62%]), hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) (n = 331 of 559 [59%]), and uremia (n = 156 of 559 [28%]). Multiple etiologies were present in 435 (78%) patients. Compared with those without TME (n = 3932), patients with TME were older (76 vs. 62 years), had dementia (27% vs. 3%) or psychiatric history (20% vs. 10%), were more often intubated (37% vs. 20%), had a longer hospital length of stay (7.9 vs. 6.0 days), and were less often discharged home (25% vs. 66% [all P < 0.001]). Excluding comfort care patients (n = 267 of 4491 [6%]) and after adjustment for confounders, TME remained associated with increased risk of in-hospital death (n = 128 of 425 [30%] patients with TME died, compared with n = 600 of 3799 [16%] patients without TME; adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] 1.24, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.02–1.52, P = 0.031), and TME due to hypoxemia conferred the highest risk (n = 97 of 233 [42%] patients with HIE died, compared with n = 631 of 3991 [16%] patients without HIE; aHR 1.56, 95% CI 1.21–2.00, P = 0.001).

Conclusions
TME occurred in one in eight hospitalized patients with COVID-19, was typically multifactorial, and was most often due to hypoxemia, sepsis, and uremia. After we adjustment for confounding factors, TME was associated with a 24% increased risk of in-hospital mortality.

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