Delirium is sudden severe confusion and rapid changes in brain function that occur with physical or mental illness.
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.
The following tests may have abnormal results:
The following tests may also be done:
The goal of treatment is to control or reverse the cause of the symptoms. Treatment depends on the condition causing delirium. Diagnosis and care should take place in a pleasant, comfortable, nonthreatening, physically safe environment. 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 significantly. Medications that may worsen confusion include:
Disorders that contribute to confusion should be treated. These may include:
Treating medical and mental disorders often greatly improves mental function.
Medications may be needed to control aggressive or agitated behaviors. These are usually started at very low doses and adjusted as needed.
Some people with delirium may benefit from hearing aids, glasses, or cataract surgery.
Other treatments that may be helpful:
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.
Call your health care provider if there is a rapid change in mental status.
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.
Acute confusional state; Acute brain syndrome
Inouye Sk. Delirium and other mental status problems in the older patient. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 26.
Greer N, Rossom R, Anderson P, et al. Delirium: Screening, Prevention, and Diagnosis; A Systematic Review of the Evidence [Internet].Washington (DC): Department of Veterans Affairs (US); 2011 Sep.
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurolosurgery, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, and Department of Anatomy at UCSF, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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