Delirium

Delirium is a change in mental status. It usually comes on quickly, over hours or days. Delirium is marked by extreme, fluctuating changes, including: Changes in perception and sensation ; Difficulties with ability to: FocusSustain and shift attentionThink and reason rationallyFunction normallyCommunicate clearly

  • Causes


    Hundreds of underlying causes can result in delirium. Some of the most common causes include:


    • Serious medical condition (eg,
      brain tumor,
      cancer,
      kidney failure,
      heart attack,
      stroke, seizures,
      low
      or high blood sugar levels)

    • Serious infections (eg,
      meningitis, pneumonia,
      urinary tract infections
      )

    • Toxic effects of medicines
    • Injury (eg,
      severe head injury,
      broken bone, or severe pain
      )

    • Alcohol
      or
      drug abuse
    • Withdrawal from alcohol or drug abuse
    • Toxins

    Brain Tumor
    Brain Tumor
    Just one of many potential causes of delirium.
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Definition


    Delirium is a change in mental status. It usually comes on quickly, over hours or days. Delirium is marked by extreme, fluctuating changes, including:

    • Changes in perception and sensation

    • Difficulties with ability to:

      • Focus
      • Sustain and shift attention
      • Think and reason rationally
      • Function normally
      • Communicate clearly

  • Diagnosis

    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:

    • Present injury or illness
    • Use of medicines or illicit drugs
    • Time when mental state changed
    • How and how fast the mental state changed

    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:


    • Blood tests to:

      • Look for signs of infection

      • Examine electrolyte levels including
        sodium
        ,
        potassium
        , and
        calcium
      • Determine oxygen levels in the blood
      • Determine blood glucose levels

      • Determine Level of vitamins such as
        vitamin B12
        ,
        folate
        , and
        thiamine
      • Assess the level of medication in the blood
      • Look for toxins or illicit drugs
    • Kidney and liver function tests
    • Thyroid function tests
    • Spinal tap
      —to look for signs of infection, inflammation, injury, and/or cancer in the brain or spine
    • Urine examination and culture—to look for signs of infection

    Images of internal organs may also help to determine a cause. Images may be taken with:

    • Chest x-ray
      to look for pneumonia
    • Electrocardiogram
      (ECG)—to examine the heart's electrical activity for evidence of heart disease
    • CT scan
    • MRI scan
    • Electroencephalogram
      (EEG)—to look for evidence of seizures

  • Prevention

    A number of steps have been shown to help prevent delirium in hospitalized patients at risk for delirium. These steps include:

    • Using memory orientation aids
    • Listening to relaxation tapes
    • Doing very light exercise (when possible and if recommended by your doctor)
    • Using vision and hearing aids (when necessary)

    • Drinking plenty of fluids (to prevent
      dehydration
      )

    Delirium is difficult to prevent because it has so many causes and it can come on suddenly.

  • Risk Factors

    These factors increase your chance of developing delirium:

    • Terminal illness, especially just before death

    • Serious illness such as
      AIDS
    • Advanced age
    • Severe sleep deprivation

    • Severe
      burn

    • Central nervous system problems such as
      stroke
      ,
      seizures
      , tumors or
      dementia
    • Surgery
    • Hospitalization
    • Visual or hearing impairment
    • Immobility
    • Dehydration
    • Severe
      constipation
    • Memory impairment
    • Deficiency in certain vitamins

  • Symptoms

    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:

    • Inability to pay attention
    • Confusion
    • Memory problems
    • Language disturbances

    • Disorientation, especially about:

      • Time of day
      • Where one is
      • Who one is

    Severe symptoms include:

    • Misinterpretations—for example, thinking a doctor who is trying to help you is trying to hurt you
    • Illusions—for example, thinking someone is someone else
    • Hallucinations—seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there
    • Emotional disturbances—for example, suddenly becoming very angry, fearful, or withdrawn for no apparent reason

  • Treatment

    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: