What is Delirium?

Delirium is a mental condition that causes major confusion and therefore, it is also defined as “acute confusional state.” It is the result of rapid brain function changes and is sometimes seen when one has a physical or mental illness.

It may also be related to an overdose or withdrawal of alcohol or drugs. Infections or severe lack of sleep may also cause delirium together with surgery or some medications. High fever, epilepsy and dehydration can be underlying causes of delirium as well.

What are the Symptoms of Delirium?

Confusion, lack of awareness, uncertainty, anxiety, and sudden mood swings are general indicators of delirium. You may be experiencing delirium if you notice sudden changes in alertness, feeling or perceptions.

Other symptoms include

Rapid changes in movement (like going from hyperactive to slowness), extreme drowsiness, major changes in sleep patterns, or being confused about your location or the time (of day, week, month, year).

People with delirium are often confused and talk incoherently or they may be unable to remember things that happened just recently. As a result, they may be agitated and irritable or even depressed and angry. They may have trouble staying on task and concentrating for short periods of time.

In some cases, you might experience hallucinations, paranoia and fear.

Delirium Causes

At times, the cause of an episode of delirium is completely unknown. Most cases of delirium do have a known cause, and there may actually be multiple causes involved.

People who suffer from certain psychological and brain disorders often experience episodes of delirium. This is especially true in elderly patients suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Elderly patients who are hospitalized or who are in a nursing care facility often experience delirium.

A high fever can bring about delirium. This most often occurs in children or in adults who have been ill for a long period of time.

Certain chemical imbalances in the body are known causes of delirium episodes. Low levels of sodium or calcium are especially troublesome.

When people who are addicted to alcohol or drugs go into rehabilitation, they will often suffer episodes of delirium as they withdraw from the addictive substances. This almost always occurs when people withdraw all at once, without medical assistance.

Delirium is a known side effect of a number of different medications. Antidepressants, anti-psychotic drugs, asthma medications, painkillers and certain allergy medications are all known causes of delirium.

How is Delirium Treated?

Treatment is designed to address the cause of the symptoms or control the symptoms. The type of treatment that is used will depend on the reasons behind the delirium.

Treatment includes

Admittance to a hospital may be required. Sometimes medications are changed or cut back on or completely stopped.

Medicine may be prescribed to control behaviors like becoming agitated or aggressive. Doctors will usually prescribe a low dosage to start and then adjust the dosage as necessary.

Delirium Prevention

The key to preventing delirium is identifying one of the many possible causes.

If a patient is taking one of several drugs known to cause delirium, it is advised that the patient be switched to another drug if at all possible. This will alleviate the delirium and stop the patient from taking the offending drug in the future.

Maintaining proper hydration and nutrition is important in preventing delirium. It is important to drink plenty of water each day and eat foods rich in calcium and other essential nutrients.

If delirium is the result of an underlying disease process, treating the disease will effectively prevent delirium episodes.

Getting a good night’s sleep is important. Even those with a history of delirium show improvement when they receive the proper amount of rest daily.