VA Report: What is the relationship between uremia and altered mental status?

Measurement of the defects in mental function caused by uremia is also made difficult by the confounding effects of age, personal background, and other illnesses.  Not knowing which uremic solutes are toxic limits our ability to improve therapy. The contribution of retained solutes to the illness experienced by dialysis patients is difficult to dissect, but we believe it is large. We know that if dialysis is withheld, accumulation of waste solutes will cause confusion, coma, and then death.

Meyer TW, Hostetter TH. Approaches to Uremia. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology : JASN. 2014;25(10):2151-2158.

In studying the effects of uremia on mental function, we must also consider how much function will be improved by the reductions in solute levels we are able to achieve. It is worth considering what would be the effect on mental function of reducing levels of a known neuroactive compound, such as ethanol. Reducing very high ethanol levels by half could restore orientation in a stuporous person, analogous to the effect of initiating dialysis in a severely uremic patient.

Table 1.

Common features of uremia

Neural and Muscular                                         Endocrine and Metabolic
Loss of energy                                                            Amenorrhea and sexual dysfunction
Decreased mental acuity                                         Insulin resistancea
Anorexia and nausea                                                Reduced resting energy expenditure
Restless legs                                                               Increased protein/muscle catabolism
Defective taste and smell                                         Other
Peripheral neuropathy                                          Pruritus
Sleep disturbances                                                    Decreased red cell survivala
Reduced muscle membrane potential               Platelet dysfunctiona
Oxidant stressa

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