Delirium: Types, Causes, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prediction

An abrupt change in the brain causes mental confusion and emotional disorders.

It makes it hard to think, remember, sleep, pay attention, etc. You may experience the condition during alcohol withdrawal, after surgery, or with dementia. Delirium is usually temporary and can often be treated effectively.

Types of delirium

Delirium is classified by its cause, severity, and characteristics:

  • Delirium tremens: a severe form of the disease people suffer who try to stop drinking. Generally, they have been drinking large amounts of alcohol for many years.
  • Hyperactive delirium is characterized by being very alert and not cooperating.
  • Hypoactive delirium is more common. With this type, he tends to sleep more and becomes inattentive and disorganized with daily tasks. You may miss meals or appointments.

Some people have a combination of hyperactive and hypoactive delirium, alternating between the two states.


Diseases that cause inflammation and infection, such as pneumonia, can interfere with brain function.

In addition, taking certain medications (for example, blood pressure medications) or abusing drugs can alter chemicals in the brain. Abstinence from alcohol and eating or drinking poisonous substances can also cause delirium.

When you have trouble breathing due to asthma or another condition, your brain does not get the oxygen it needs. Any condition or factor that significantly modifies your brain function can cause severe mental confusion.


Risk factor’s

If you are over 65 and have numerous diseases, you are more likely to get delirium.

Surgery patients and people who withdraw from alcohol and drug abuse are also at greater risk.

Conditions that damage the brain (stroke and dementia ) can increase the risk. Your risk is also higher if you are under extreme emotional stress.

The following factors may also contribute to delirium:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Certain medications (for example, sedatives, medications for blood pressure, sleeping pills, and pain killers).
  • Dehydration.
  • Poor nutrition
  • Infection (for example, urinary tract infection).

Symptoms of delirium

Delirium affects the mind, emotions, muscle control, and sleep patterns. You may have difficulty concentrating or feel confused about your whereabouts. You can also move slowly or faster than usual and experience mood swings.

Other symptoms include:

  • Do not think or speak clearly.
  • Sleeping poorly and feeling sleepy.
  • Reduced short-term memory.
  • Loss of muscle control (as incontinence ).


Confusion evaluation method

Your doctor will watch your symptoms and examine you to see if you can think, talk and move normally. Some health professionals use the Confusion Evaluation Method (CAM) to diagnose or rule out delirium. The doctor observes if:

  • Your behavior changes throughout the day, especially if you are hospitalized.
  • You have trouble paying attention or following others while they talk.
  • You are rambling.

Tests and exams

Many factors can cause changes in brain chemistry. Your doctor will try to determine the cause of the delirium by doing tests relevant to your symptoms and medical history.

One or more of the following tests may be needed to verify the imbalances:

  • Blood chemistry test.
  • Head scans.
  • Drug and alcohol tests.
  • Thyroid tests.
  • Liver tests
  • Chest x-ray.
  • Urine tests.


Depending on the cause of the delirium, treatment may include taking or stopping certain medications. An accurate diagnosis is essential for treatment in older adults since the symptoms of delirium are similar to dementia, but the treatments are very different.


Your doctor will prescribe medications to treat the underlying cause of the delirium.

If a severe asthma attack causes delirium, you may need an inhaler or a respirator to restore your breathing.

Antibiotics may be prescribed if a bacterial infection causes delirium symptoms.

Sometimes, your doctor may recommend that you stop drinking alcoholic beverages or taking certain medications (for example, codeine or other drugs that depress your system).

If you are agitated or depressed, you may be given small doses of one of the following medications:

  • Antidepressants to relieve depression.
  • Sedatives to relieve alcohol abstinence.
  • Dopamine boosters to help with drug poisoning.
  • Thiamine to help prevent confusion.


If you feel disoriented, counseling can help anchor your thoughts. Counseling is also used to treat people whose condition makes them participate in dangerous behaviors.

In all cases, the goal of counseling is to make you feel comfortable and give you a safe place to talk about your thoughts and feelings.


Total recovery from delirium is possible with proper treatment. It may take a few weeks to think, talk and feel physically as you were before. You may have side effects from the medications used to treat this condition.