Delirium: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Delirium is a mental disorder that makes a person confused and decreased awareness of the surrounding environment. Delirium can appear suddenly and can last for several hours to several days. Check out the full explanation of what delirium and other matters below.

What is Delirium?

Like the previous explanation, delirium is a sudden change in the brain that causes mental confusion and emotional disturbance. This condition makes it difficult for someone to think, remember, sleep, concentrate, and carry out daily activities. A person can experience delirium when stopping consuming alcohol, after surgery, or those who have dementia.

Delirium is a disorder caused by several factors, ranging from chronic diseases, disruption of metabolic balance (low sodium levels), consumption of drugs, surgery, or drug poisoning.

Causes of Delirium

The cause of delirium is the disruption of the signal receiver in the brain. This disorder is most likely caused by a combination of factors that make the brain vulnerable, triggering brain failure. Although the exact cause cannot be identified, there are several possible causes of delirium, including:

  • Medical conditions, such as stroke, heart attack, lung disease, liver disease, or injury due to falls.
  • Metabolic imbalances, such as low sodium or calcium
  • Fever and acute infections, especially in children.
  • Urinary tract infections, especially in those who are elderly.
  • Exposure to poisons, such as carbon monoxide, cyanide or other poisons
  • Malnutrition or dehydration.
  • Lack of sleep or severe emotional stress.
  • Surgery or other medical procedures that require anesthesia.

Some drugs or combinations of drugs can trigger delirium, including:

  • Painkillers.
  • Sleeping pills.
  • Medications for mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
  • Allergy medicine (antihistamine).
  • Asthma Medication.
  • Steroid medicine.
  • Medication for Parkinson’s disease.

In addition to some of the causes above, difficulty breathing due to asthma or other conditions, makes the brain does not get the oxygen needed. Any condition or factor that significantly changes brain function can cause severe mental confusion or delirium.

Delirium type

Delirium is categorized based on causes, severity, and characteristics. Here are some types of delirium, including:

  • Delirium Tremens

This type of delirium is a condition experienced by someone who tries to stop consuming alcohol. This condition usually occurs in patients who have consumed alcohol for years.

  • Hyperactive Delirium

Characterized by a very alert attitude and tend to be uncooperative.

  • Hypoactive delirium

Patients with this type of delirium tend to make patients more sleep, become negligent about daily tasks, often skip meals or appointments with someone.

In some cases, a person can also have a combination of hyperactive and hypoactive delirium (mixed delirium), or alternating between the two conditions.

Symptoms of Delirium

In some cases, delirium is a disorder that does not cause symptoms, but can also fluctuate throughout the day. Symptoms tend to be worse when the atmosphere is dark and face situations that are not yet familiar. The main signs and symptoms include:

1. Decreased Consciousness

  • Inability to stay focused on a topic or easy to switch topics.
  • More stuck on ideas than responding to questions or conversations.
  • Being easily distracted by things that are not important.

2. Decreased Cognitive Ability

  • Poor memory, especially regarding current events.
  • Experience disorientation.
  • Difficulty speaking or remembering words.
  • Babble.
  • Trouble understanding speech.
  • Difficulty reading or writing.

3. Changes in Behavior

  • Having hallucinations.
  • Restless or aggressive behavior.
  • Withdraw especially from older adults.
  • Body movements become slow or lethargic.
  • Disruption of sleep or changes in sleep cycles.

Delirium diagnosis

Keep in mind, because the symptoms of dementia and delirium are something that can be similar, input from family members or people closest to it is important for doctors to make an accurate diagnosis.

The doctor will look at the clinical history of the patient (how and when changes occur), the underlying health, and current mental condition.

There are various clinical tools and tests that doctors will use to make a diagnosis of delirium, but there are no blood tests or other laboratory tests to do this.

Possible diagnoses include:

1. Mental Status Assessment

A doctor starts by assessing awareness, attention and thought. This can be done informally through conversation, or with tests of confusion, perception, and memory. Additional information from family members or people can also help.

2. Physical and Neurological Exams

The doctor performs a physical examination, checking for signs of an underlying health problem or disease. Other diagnoses are neurological examinations such as checking vision, balance, coordination, and reflexes. This method can help determine whether a stroke or neurological disease causes delirium.

3. Other tests

Brain imaging tests can be used when a diagnosis cannot be made with other available information. Another test that might be recommended is a blood or urine test.

Delirium Treatment

Before taking medication, it is important to find the underlying cause. Delirium is a mental disorder that usually gets better if the underlying cause is found and treated.

Some other steps that can be done, including:

1. Medicines

The doctor will prescribe medication to treat the cause of delirium. For example, if delirium is caused by a severe asthma attack, you might need an inhaler machine to restore breathing. If a bacterial infection causes symptoms of delirium, antibiotics can be prescribed.

Meanwhile, if restlessness is the cause of delirium, your doctor may give a small dose of one of the following drugs, including:

  • Antidepressants to eliminate depression.
  • Sedatives to make it easier to stop consuming alcohol.
  • Dopamine blockers to help drug poisoning.
  • Thiamine to help prevent confusion.

Keep in mind, you might experience side effects from drugs used to treat this condition. Talk to your doctor before taking it.

2. Counseling

If you feel excessive anxiety, counseling can help calm the mind so that delirium does not occur. Counseling is also used as a treatment for delirium sufferers caused by drugs or alcohol.

In all cases, counseling is intended to make you feel comfortable and provide a safe place to discuss thoughts and feelings.

Prevention of Delirium

Here are some things you can do to prevent delirium or prevent delirium from getting worse:

  • Regular exercise and a healthy diet.
  • Create healthy sleep patterns. This makes the sufferer have optimal activity between day and night.
  • Avoid every fight, because it can prevent delirium from getting worse.
  • Adjust the noise level in the surrounding environment.
  • Put your favorite object or picture, but avoid a messy environment.


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