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Alternative Names Return to topAcute confusional state; Acute brain syndrome
Definition Return to top
Delirium is sudden severe confusion and rapid changes in brain function that occur with physical or mental illness.
Causes Return to top
Delirium is most often caused by physical or mental illness and is usually temporary and reversible. Many disorders cause delirium, including conditions that deprive the brain of oxygen or other substances.
Patients with more severe brain injuries are more likely to get delirium from another illness.
Symptoms Return to top
Delirium involves a quick change between mental states (for example, from lethargy to agitation and back to lethargy).
Exams and Tests Return to top
The following tests may have abnormal results:
The following tests may also be done:
Treatment Return to top
The goal of treatment is to control or reverse the cause of the symptoms. Treatment depends on the condition causing delirium. Diagnosis and care should take place in a pleasant, comfortable, nonthreatening, physically safe environment. The person may need to stay in the hospital for a short time.
Stopping or changing medications that worsen confusion, or that are not necessary, may improve mental function. Medications that may worsen confusion include:
Disorders that contribute to confusion should be treated. These may include:
Treating medical and mental disorders often greatly improves mental function.
Medications may be needed to control aggressive or agitated behaviors. These are usually started at very low doses and adjusted as needed.
Some people with delirium may benefit from hearing aids, glasses, or cataract surgery.
Other treatments that may be helpful:
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Acute conditions that cause delirium may occur with chronic disorders that cause dementia. Acute brain syndromes may be reversible by treating the cause.
Delirium often lasts only about 1 week, although it may take several weeks for mental function to return to normal levels. Full recovery is common.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if there is a rapid change in mental status.
Prevention Return to top
Treating the conditions that cause delirium can reduce its risk.Update Date: 2/13/2008 Updated by: Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Departments of Anatomy & Neurological Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.