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:
- Having severe health problems, such as dementia, stroke, seizures, or tumors
- Having infections, such as pneumonia or a urinary tract infection
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- A head injury
- A severe lack of sleep or fluids
- Problems passing stool
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- Being withdrawn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:
- Blood and urine tests
An MRI or CT scan to take pictures of the brain
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.
Last reviewed September 2019 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 8/7/2020