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Behavioral Emergencies: Differentiating Medical From Psychiatric Disease

March 2002

Abstract

Each day, emergency physicians face myriad diagnostic dilemmasóbut few are as complex and misleading as behavioral emergencies. The causes of acute behavioral changes range from the mundane (such as a pint of vodka) to the horrific (in the case of suppurative meningitis). Because the differential diagnosis is astoundingly broad, such patients require a careful assessment of their mental and physical health. In many cases, the emergency physician's "medical clearance" exam is the only medical assessment that they will receive.

Unfortunately, too many patients are prematurely labeled as "psych," especially if they have a history of mental illness. Such hasty closure can miss occult medical problems that can either mimic or exacerbate a psychiatric condition. This issue of Emergency Medicine Practice provides a rational approach to patients with behavioral complaints.
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