Delirium-Symptoms and Causes

deliriumDelirium can be a frightening and confusing medical condition. In delirium an individual abruptly develops a condition akin to a brain attack, often characterized by severe confusion and a marked decrease in normal brain function. Delirium symptoms can include psychotic reactions such as hallucinations or delusions along with incoherent speech, memory problems, attention deficit problems, anger, agitation, anxiety, disorganized thinking, incontinence and more. Often there are disruptions of the normal sleep/wake cycle, severe impairments of normal cognitive functioning and unusually dramatic changes in normal behavior.

Delirium is characterized by an acute and ready identifiable time of onset. It is not something that develops over months or years but occurs within the space of a few hours or overnight. Delirium develops quickly and its severity often fluctuates dramatically. Delirium is not a disease in and of itself but rather a symptom of other medical conditions, diseases and disorders.

It is impossible to diagnose delirium without having a knowledge of the patients normal cognitive function and state of mind. If a person is mentally disabled it is difficult to diagnose delirium without knowing their normal baseline level of mental functioning to compare.

Delirium is a temporary condition and it is generally reversible, however, there can be lasting effects that can exacerbate the underlying illness, increase medical costs, and even put the patient at an increased risk of death.

Delirium episodes can be caused by a number of different conditions including things as simple as an electrolyte or chemical disturbance in the body. Delirium can be caused by infections, including urinary tract infections and pneumonia, or hospitalizations and surgery. Delirium is also commonly attributed to alcohol or sedative withdrawal, drug abuse and poisons.

Other conditions that can contribute to delirium include thyroid or kidney dysfunction, a stroke or coronary event, and even malnutrition. People who suffer from mild to moderate cognitive disorders or dementia are at an increased risk for delirium. Cognitive dysfunction is generally much worse following an attack even after the episode has ended.

Delirium is caused by an organic process, usually a chemical, structural, or functional problem within the brain. It is one of the most common acute disorders that affect adults in a hospital setting. However, there are precautions that can be taken to reduce the risk including reducing disruptions in sleep patterns and minimizing the use of sedatives, which can prolong the delirious attack.