Delirium

Definition

Delirium is sudden severe confusion and rapid changes in brain function that occur with physical or mental illness.

Causes

Delirium is most often caused by physical or mental illness and is usually temporary and reversible. Many disorders cause delirium, including conditions that deprive the brain of oxygen or other substances.

Causes include:

Symptoms

Delirium involves a quick change between mental states (for example, from lethargy to agitation and back to lethargy).

Symptoms include:

Exams and Tests

The following tests may have abnormal results:

The following tests may also be done:

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to control or reverse the cause of the symptoms. Treatment depends on the condition causing delirium. The person may need to stay in the hospital for a short time.

Stopping or changing medications that worsen confusion, or that are not necessary, may improve mental function. Substances and medicines that can worsen confusion include:

Disorders that contribute to confusion should be treated. These may include:

Treating medical and mental disorders often greatly improves mental function.

Medicines may be needed to control aggressive or agitated behaviors. These are usually started at very low dosages and adjusted as needed:

Some people with delirium may benefit from hearing aids, glasses, or cataract surgery.

Other treatments that may be helpful:

Outlook (Prognosis)

Acute conditions that cause delirium may occur with chronic disorders that cause dementia. Acute brain syndromes may be reversible by treating the cause.

Delirium often lasts only about 1 week, although it may take several weeks for mental function to return to normal levels. Full recovery is common.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if there is a rapid change in mental status.

Prevention

Treating the conditions that cause delirium can reduce its risk. In hospitalized patients, avoiding sedatives, staying still (immobilization), and bladder catheters, and using reality orientation programs will reduce the risk of delirium in those at high risk.


Review Date: 2/27/2013
Reviewed By: Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles and Department of Anatomy, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.