Delirium involves a sudden change in the way an individual thinks or acts. It may start suddenly over a few hours or days. Delirium typically goes away in a few hours to a few days or several weeks or months. During its entire course, it may disappear and come back again. The doctor can advise the person to stay in the hospital for some days so that they can monitor their symptoms. People can expect to recover early depending on the resolution of the issues that are causing the delirium.
Early recognition of the signs and symptoms of delirium is important. In the absence of prompt and appropriate treatment, delirium can permanently damage a person’s cognitive skills.
What are the signs and symptoms of delirium?
The most vital sign of delirium is decreased attention or awareness and a change in the person’s ability to think and act. Apart from this, it can present with a variety of signs and symptoms consisting of physical as well as psychiatric features.
There are two types of delirium and the signs and symptoms of these two types differ from each other.
Signs and symptoms of hyperactive delirium include:
- Hallucinations (an experience that involves seeing, hearing, feeling, or smelling something, which is not there)
- Dysphasia (difficulty speaking and writing)
- Dysarthria (slow or slurred speech)
- Trouble concentrating
- A quick shift in emotions
Signs and symptoms of hypoactive delirium include:
- Decreased responsiveness
- Slowed actions
What are the causes of delirium?
What causes delirium remains unknown in some people. The known causes include:
- Overdose or withdrawal of alcohol or recreational drugs
- Change of the environment (surroundings)
- Medications (such as antihistamines and narcotic drugs)
- Extreme reaction to infections
- Brain injury or disorders
- Hormonal disorders (such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism)
- Liver failure
- Kidney failure
- Hypoxia (lack of oxygen to your tissues)
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels)
- Severe pain
- Lack of sleep
Who is at a greater risk of developing delirium?
Delirium can happen at any age, but it occurs more commonly in older people, hospitalized people, and people having any previous mental illness.
The people who are at a greater risk of developing delirium include:
How is delirium treated?
Delirium is a medical emergency, and the success of its treatment depends on how soon it is recognized and treated.
Doctors treat delirium depending on its cause.
- If the cause is infections, antibiotics are given.
- If the cause is dehydration, fluids and electrolytes will be given by mouth or through your vein.
- If the cause is drug and alcohol withdrawal, then medications like Benzodiazepines will be given.
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Collier R. Hospital-Induced Delirium Hits Hard. CMAJ. 2012;184(1):23-24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3255198/