Differential diagnosis of steroid-dependent nephrotic syndrome with psychosis: Practical and ethical issues

Cindy K. Westergaard*, Cindy J. Nowinski, Jerry J. Sweet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present case illustrates practical and ethical issues that can be encountered by clinical psychologists providing consultation services in medical settings. The neuropsychological consultation service was asked to evaluate a 22-year-old male with psychosis, steroid-dependent nephrotic syndrome, and a family history of schizophrenia. MRI revealed marked cortical atrophy. Clinical findings were consistent with (1) steroid induced apparent atrophy, which has been shown to be reversible with withdrawal of steroids; (2) uremia secondary to steroid withdrawal; (3) cortical atrophy, found in some schizophrenics; or (4) an atypical, diffuse degenerative disorder. Clinical interview and psychological testing revealed significant thought disorder, prominent delusions, somatic hallucinations, and mood disturbance. Deterioration in social and academic functioning was also present. Except for impaired attention and concentration, neuropsychological evaluation showed no clear evidence of brain-based dysfunction. Further, neuropsychological results effectively ruled out a degenerative process and were not consistent with a steroid effects profile. A conclusive differential diagnosis of steroid induced psychosis versus severe psychopathology would require withdrawal from steroids and antipsychotics. In addition to the practical and ethical issues of withholding antipsychotics, steroid withdrawal would require either dialysis or renal transplant surgery. Decision making regarding dialysis dependency and the possibility of postsurgical psychosis secondary to true psychopathology were salient issues to both the patient and the treatment team.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-21
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996


  • Dementia
  • Nephrotic syndrome
  • Schizophrenia
  • Steroid dependency
  • Uremia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology

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