What is Delirium?

Delirium is an acute state of confusion characterized by restlessness, disorientation, rapid changes in mood, impaired short-term memory, and other cognitive changes. It is a medical emergency that can be life-threatening, and typically requires urgent evaluation and treatment.

Delirium can be caused by a variety of factors, including the use of certain drugs and medications, alcohol withdrawal, acute medical or psychiatric conditions, infection, severe pain, sleep deprivation, or dehydration.

Symptoms of Delirium

The symptoms of delirium can vary depending on the cause, but may include the following:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Rapid, unpredictable changes in mood
  • Impaired short-term memory
  • Problems with speaking, thinking clearly, or understanding what is being said
  • Difficulty staying focused
  • Hallucinations or delusions

Diagnosis and Treatment

Delirium is diagnosed based on a physical and neurological exam, and a review of medical history and current medications. Treatment usually involves finding and treating the underlying cause.

If medications are the cause, the doctor may change or reduce the dose or switch to a different treatment. If the delirium is caused by an infection, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics or antiviral medications.

Treatment may also involve providing supportive care, such as providing fluids and nutrition, monitoring vital signs, providing pain relief, or providing sedatives or antipsychotic medications.


While delirium cannot always be prevented, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk. These include avoiding abrupt changes in medications, monitoring for signs of infection or pain, staying hydrated, and getting enough rest.

It is also important for family members and caregivers to be aware of the signs and symptoms of delirium and to seek medical attention if they occur.