Delirium is sudden confusion.
Causes of delirium are not well known. It can be caused by an injury or illness that affects the brain.
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Delirium is more common in older adults. Other things that may raise the risk are:
Symptoms happen quickly. They may be:
- Memory problems
- Being very upset
- Being withdrawn
- Being aggressive
- Language problems
- Seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there
- Believing things that are not based in reality
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. A cognitive exam will also be done. This may be enough to make the diagnosis.
These tests may be done when more information is needed:
Most people will get better when the cause of the delirium is treated, such as treating an infection. Symptoms may also need to be treated. This can be done with:
Some medicine may need to be stopped or changed.
Medicines to treat delirium may be:
- Benzodiazepines to treat alcohol or drug withdrawal
Delirium is hard to prevent as it starts quickly and has many causes.
American Psychiatric Association
National Institute of Mental Health
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychological Association
Delirium in hospitalized patients. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/delirium-in-hospitalized-patients. Updated September 24, 2019. Accessed October 18, 2019.
Inouye SK, Westendorp RG, et al. Delirium in elderly people. Lancet. 2014 Mar 8;383(9920):911-22, commentary can be found in Lancet 2014 Jun 14;383(9934):2044.
4/29/2016 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116623/Delirium-in-hospitalized-patients: Litton E, Carnegie V, et al. The efficacy of earplugs as a sleep hygiene strategy for reducing delirium in the ICU: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Crit Care Med. 2016;44(5):992-999.
Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD Last Updated: 8/7/2020