Delirium Causes

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Delirium is a state of mental confusion that can occur as a result of illness, surgery or with the use of some medications or drugs of abuse.

Some examples of the causes of delirium include:

  • Fever – this is one of the most common causes
  • Urinary, chest or brain infection.
  • The use of certain drugs such as pain killers or steroids
  • Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance
  • Lack of oxygen supply to the brain or hypoxia
  • Lack of glucose supply to the brain or hypoglycemia
  • Severe liver and kidney disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • Major surgery
  • Lack of sleep
  • Neurological disorders
  • Raised intracranial tension or pressure within the brain
  • Sudden or abrupt withdrawal from drugs or alcohol
  • Head injury
  • Severe constipation
  • Terminal illness and cancer pain
  • Toxins such as carbon monoxide

Delirium is fairly common among hospitalized patients, with around 1 in 10 having a period of delirium. The condition is more common among the following groups:

  • Critically ill patients
  • Elderly patients
  • Those with memory problems or dementia
  • Those who have had recent major surgery
  • Those with poor hearing or vision
  • Stroke patients or those with brain injury or infection
  • Those with terminal illness

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Mar 26, 2014

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