Delirium Diagnosis

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.

A patient’s symptoms can sometimes point towards the underlying cause of the delirium, such as fever, for example. Some common features of delirium, however, such as drowsiness, confusion, and disorientation do not provide obvious clues as to the cause of the condition.

Some examples of delirium symptoms include:

  • Diminished awareness of surroundings
  • Uncertainly about location or means of arriving there
  • Inability to understand conversation and speak clearly
  • Vivid, often frightening dreams that continue once awake
  • Auditory hallucination
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Fear that others are trying to cause harm
  • Feeling drowsy and slow
  • Sleeping during the day but being awake at night
  • Rapid mood swings that vary from scared and anxious to depressed or irritable
  • Confusion that worsens in the evenings

Also called “acute confusional state,” delirium usually starts suddenly and can be frightening for the person experiencing it as well as for those around them. However, the delirium usually lifts once the underlying case has been identified and treated.

Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc

Sources

  1. http://www.nhs.uk/ipgmedia/national/Royal%20College%20of%20Psychiatrists/Assets/Delirium.pdf
  2. http://www.guysandstthomas.nhs.uk/resources/patient-information/all-patients/delirium-information-for-patients-relatives-and-carers.pdf
  3. http://www.patientsafetyfirst.nhs.uk/ashx/
  4. http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/live/13060/49909/49909.pdf
  5. http://psychiatry.stanford.edu/Psychosomatic/Maldonado'08-Delirium%20in%20ICU-CCC.pdf

Further Reading

Last Updated: Mar 26, 2014

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