Catastrophic neurologic events occur rarely postoperatively and must be diagnosed quickly. A 63-year-old woman who had undergone uneventful total hip arthroplasty experienced obtundation after admission to the postanesthesia care unit. Cranial magnetic resonance imaging revealed multiple lesions consistent with ischemia or infarction, and fat cerebral embolism was diagnosed. We describe the numerous complications that may occur in patients in the postanesthesia care unit and review the differential diagnosis of altered mental status in such patients. Paradoxical cerebral fat embolization must be considered in the differential diagnosis of altered mental status after pelvic or long bone fracture or lower extremity major joint replacement, and this condition may occur despite normal pulmonary function and no patent foramen ovale or right-to-left intracardiac shunt. Magnetic resonance imaging with T2-weighted sequences is the cranial imaging study of choice for early evaluation of patients with sudden multifocal neurologic deficits and suspected fat embolism syndrome.
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