Anti-N-Methyl-D-Aspartate Receptor Encephalitis as an Unusual Cause of Altered Mental Status in the Emergency Department

Michael Weaver, Richard T. Griffey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background Anti-N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor autoimmune encephalitis is a newly identified form of encephalitis whose incidence is on the rise. Awareness of this condition and symptom recognition are key to early diagnosis and prompt treatment, which may alter the course of the disease. Case Report A 35-year-old woman presented to our Emergency Department (ED) with lethargy, bizarre behavior, agitation, confusion, memory deficits, and word-finding difficulties. Her symptoms and evaluation were potentially consistent with a primary psychiatric disorder, but the absence of frank psychosis and presence of neurologic features related to memory and cognition prompted other considerations. In the ED we performed a lumbar puncture, and in addition to routine studies, ordered anti-NMDAR antibody screening. The screening studies returned positive, leading to treatment with glucocorticoids and intravenous immune globulin and resulting in improvement to near baseline function. Why Should an Emergency Physician Be Aware of This? Although anti-NMDAR encephalitis is relatively uncommon, reports of this previously unrecognized condition are increasing, with an unclear true incidence of disease. Emergency providers should consider this diagnosis in their differential for patients presenting with new neuropsychiatric symptoms, particularly in young women. Prompt treatment leads to near complete neurologic recovery in 75% of patients, whereas delays in diagnosis and treatment may be associated with worse outcomes including death.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-139
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016


  • NMDA
  • NMDA encephalitis
  • autoimmune
  • encephalitis
  • psychosis


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