Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Delirium can be caused by many medical conditions. It describesthe confused state of mind in a person. With delirium, the person may beunable to maintain attention, and thinking may be disorganized. The brainis unable to process information in the proper way.

What is going on in the body?

A person with delirium is unable to focus attention or replycorrectly to questions. Delirium usually comes on quickly and needs to beassessed and treated right away. It can usually be turned around once the causeis known. Delirium is more common in older people andmay uncover dementia that wasn’t noticed before.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Delirium can be caused by many things including:

  • abnormal sodium, chloride, ammonia, or other electrolyte levels in the blood
  • alcoholor drugs
  • head injury
  • liver or kidney failure, such as acute renal failure
  • low blood glucose
  • low oxygen levels in the blood
  • poisonings
  • seizures
  • severe dehydration
  • severe infections, such as a blood infection known assepsis
  • withdrawal from drugs or alcohol
  • Symptoms & Signs

    What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?

    A person who is delirious:

  • cannot stay focused on what is going on around him or her
  • may be confused about time, place, or people
  • may be unable to identify friends or family
  • may have scattered and flawed thinking
  • may ramble or use garbled speech
  • The person could have:

  • hallucinations
  • memory impairment
  • a reduced level of consciousness
  • sleep problems
  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the condition diagnosed?

    Delirium requires immediate medical attention. A completemedical history and physical examis necessary. Lab tests include drug and alcohol screening,blood glucose,and electrolytes, among others. A spinal tapor a cranial CTscan is often needed.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the condition?

    The best way to prevent delirium is to avoid illegal drugs andoveruse of alcohol.It is important to seek proper treatment for all medical conditions. Peoplewith diabetesmust monitor their blood glucose often to prevent very low or high levels.An attempt to eat healthy and stay healthy is important.

    What are the long-term effects of the condition?

    People with delirium may require a long stay in the hospital. Ifthe cause cannot be established or treated, they may have a poor outcome.

    What are the risks to others?

    People who are delirious can become very upset andeven violent. Caregivers may be injured by accident.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the condition?

    Treatment depends on the cause of the delirium. Symptomscan usually be reversed once the actual cause is named and treated.This is particularly true if the cause is low blood sugar or hypoglycemia.People with delirium are most comfortable in an environment that is:

  • quiet
  • calm
  • low-lit
  • familiar
  • Restraints may be necessary if the person is highly agitated.Sometimes the agitation must also be treated with medicine. In this case, thesmallest dose of medicine is used becausethe drugs themselves may worsen the confusion at the same time thatthey calm the agitation. Medicines are stopped as soon as possibleso recovery from delirium can be assessed.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Some psychoactive medicines can actually causeconfusion,which is a symptom of delirium. Usually, few major side effects appearfrom treatment after the cause of delirium is identified.

    What happens after treatment for the condition?

    Recovery from delirium can be slow. The rate of recoverycan depend on the cause. Elderly people often recover at a slower rate.

    How is the condition monitored?

    The individual is monitored through blood chemistry studiesand through physical exams. The specific monitoring will differ basedon the cause of the delirium.

    Article type: xmedgeneral