Delirium is an abrupt change in
the brain that causes mental confusion and emotional disruption. It makes it
difficult to think, remember, sleep, pay attention, and more. You might
experience the condition during alcohol withdrawal, after surgery, or with dementia. Delirium is usually temporary
and can often be treated effectively.
Delirium is categorized by its
cause, severity, and characteristics:
tremens is a severe form of the condition suffered by people who are trying to
stop drinking. Usually, they have been drinking large amounts of alcohol for
characterized by being highly alert and uncooperative.
delirium is more
common. With this type, you tend to sleep more and become inattentive and
disorganized with daily tasks. You might miss meals or appointments.
Some people have a combination of
both hyperactive and hypoactive delirium, alternating between the two states.
that cause inflammation and infection, such as pneumonia, can interfere with
brain function. Additionally, taking certain medications (e.g., blood pressure
medicine) or abusing drugs can disrupt chemicals in the brain. Alcohol
withdrawal and eating or drinking poisonous substances can also cause delirium.
you have trouble breathing due to asthma
or another condition, your brain doesn’t get the oxygen it needs. Any condition
or factor that significantly changes your brain function can cause severe
Who Is at
Risk for Delirium?
you’re over 65 and/or have numerous health conditions, you’re more at risk for
delirium. Surgery patients and people withdrawing from alcohol and drug abuse
are also more at risk. Conditions that damage the brain (e.g., stroke and dementia) can
increase the risk. Your risk is also higher if you are under extreme emotional
stress. The following factors may also contribute to delirium:
medications (e.g., sedatives, blood pressure medications, sleeping pills, and
(e.g., urinary tract infection)
Symptoms of Delirium
affects your mind, emotions, muscle control, and sleep patterns. You might have
a hard time concentrating or feel confused about your whereabouts. You may also
move more slowly or quickly than usual, and experience mood swings. Other
thinking or speaking clearly
poorly and feeling drowsy
of muscle control (e.g., incontinence)
How Is Delirium Diagnosed?
Confusion Assessment Method
doctor will observe your symptoms and examine you to see if you can think,
speak, and move normally. Some health practitioners use the Confusion
Assessment Method (CAM) to diagnose or rule out delirium. The doctor observes
whether or not:
behavior changes throughout the day, especially if you’re hospitalized
have a hard time paying attention or following others as they speak
- you’re rambling
Tests and Exams
factors can cause changes in brain chemistry. Your doctor will try to determine
the cause of the delirium by running tests relevant to your symptoms and
medical history. One or more of the following tests may be needed to check for
and alcohol tests
How Is Delirium Treated?
on the cause of the delirium, treatment may include taking or stopping certain
medications. Counseling may also be helpful in certain cases. In older adults,
an accurate diagnosis is important for treatment, as delirium symptoms are
similar to dementia — but the treatments are very different.
doctor will prescribe medications to treat the underlying cause of delirium.
For example, if your delirium is caused by a severe asthma attack, you might need
an inhaler or breathing machine to restore your breathing. If a bacterial
infection is causing the delirium symptoms, antibiotics may be prescribed.
some cases, your doctor may recommend that you stop drinking alcohol or stop
taking certain medications (e.g., codeine or other drugs that depress your
system). If you’re agitated or depressed, you may be given small doses of one
of the following medications:
to relieve the depression
to ease alcohol withdrawal
blockers to help with drug poisoning
to help prevent confusion
you’re feeling disoriented, counseling may help to anchor your thoughts.
Counseling is also used as a treatment for people whose condition makes them
engage in dangerous behaviors. In all cases, counseling is intended to make you
comfortable and give you a safe place to discuss your thoughts and feelings.
Recovering from Delirium
Full recovery from delirium is
possible with the right treatment. It can take up to a few weeks for you to
think, speak, and feel physically like your old self. You might have side
effects from the medications used to treat this condition.