Treatment of Endocrine Disorders in the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit

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Opinion statement

This review discusses concepts and treatments associated with the most clinically relevant areas of acute endocrine dysfunction amongst patients with common diseases in neuroscience intensive care units (Neuro ICUs). We highlight the following points:

• While a thorough work-up for hyponatremia when it is present is always warranted, subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) patients who are in a time window concerning for cerebral vasospasm and who are hyponatremic with high urine output are generally thought to have cerebral salt wasting. These patients are typically treated with a combination of continuous hypertonic saline infusion and fludrocortisone.

• Diabetes insipidus (DI) is often seen in patients fulfilling death by neurological criteria, as well as in patients with recent pituitary surgery and less often in SAH and traumatic brain injury patients who are not brain dead. Patients with DI in the Neuro ICU often cannot drink to thirst and may require a combination of desmopression/vasopressin administration, aggressive fluid repletion, and serum sodium monitoring.

• Diagnosing adrenal insufficiency immediately following pituitary injury is complicated by the fact that the expected atrophy of the adrenal glands, due to lack of a stimulus from pituitary adrenocorticotropic hormone, may take up to 6 weeks to develop. Cosyntropin testing can be falsely normal during this period.

• Both hyperglycemia (glucose >200 mg/dL) and hypoglycemia (glucose <50 mg/dL) are strongly associated with neurological morbidity and mortality in ICUs and should be avoided. Glucose concentrations between 120–160 mg/dL can serve as a reasonable target for insulin infusion protocols.

• There is no data to suggest that treatment of abnormal thyroid function tests in nonthyroidal illness syndrome/sick euthyroid leads to benefits in either mortality or morbidity. True myxedema coma is a rare clinical diagnosis that is treated with intravenous levothyroxine accompanied by stress-dose steroids.

This article is part of the Topical Collection on Critical Care Neurology