Delirium is a change in mental status. It usually comes on quickly, over hours or days. Delirium is marked by extreme, fluctuating changes, including:
Hundreds of underlying causes can result in delirium. Some of the most common causes include:
These factors increase your chance of developing delirium:
Symptoms usually come on quickly and can last for days, weeks, or longer. They also vary in severity depending on the cause. Symptoms are often worse at night and may include:
Severe symptoms include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done and the doctor will ask you questions. The doctor will ask specific questions about:
The diagnosis will be made based on what the doctor finds during the exam. To determine a cause your doctor may need to run several tests such as:
Images of internal organs may also help to determine a cause. Images may be taken with:
Delirium is first treated by identifying and treating the underlying cause. Then, symptoms are treated through medicine, psychological management, and environmental and supportive intervention.
Treatments may include:
Drugs used to treat symptoms of delirium include:
If you are taking medication that is worsening your confusion, you may be asked to stop these.
Psychological therapy involves may help you:
This type of treatment can be done by doctors, nurses, or caretakers. It can help you readjust to your surroundings and reducing anxiety. Examples of this intervention include:
A number of steps have been shown to help prevent delirium in hospitalized patients at risk for delirium. These steps include:
Delirium is difficult to prevent because it has so many causes and it can come on suddenly.
American Psychiatric Association
National Institute of Mental Health
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychological Association
Delirium. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated May 12, 2013. Accessed June 11, 2013.
Gleason O. Delirium.
American Academy of Family Physicians website. Am Fam Physician. 2003 Mar 1;67(5):1027. Available at:
http://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/0301/p1027.html. Accessed June 11, 2013.
Last reviewed May 2013 by
Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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