Delirium is a mental state—usually temporary and short-lived—that causes delirious thoughts and behavior. People experiencing delirium may feel like their head is cloudy, may experience unusual sensations or perceptions, and may be confused.
Causes of Delirium
A wide variety of illnesses and lifestyle choices can cause delirium. Drug and alcohol abuse are among the most common causes of delirium. A condition related to delirium, delirium tremens, occurs as a result of alcohol withdrawal and can cause symptoms of delirium as well as tremors. Brain infections, oxygen deprivation, poisoning, and electrolyte imbalances in the body can also cause delirium.
Symptoms of Delirium
Delirium symptoms can include:
- Extreme confusion
- Changes in level of alertness
- Chaotic, disorganized thinking or speaking patterns
- Changes in personality or emotional outbursts
- Difficulty with short-term memory
- Drowsiness or hyperactivity
- Seizures, fever, and generalized pain
Treatment for Delirium
Treatment for delirium depends primarily on its cause. Doctors must ensure that delirium is not a symptom of an underlying mental health condition. The first goal is to stabilize the person experiencing delirium, and doctors may administer intravenous fluids to counteract the effects of dehydration and drug use if needed. Doctors may also administer blood tests to check for poisons and drug overdoses. Depending upon the cause of delirium, treatment may be brief or may require several days of care.
Delirium and Mental Health Conditions
The symptoms of some mental health diagnoses are very similar to delirium. People with certain conditions such as depression or schizophrenia may also experience disorganized or slowed thought patterns, and anxiety attacks due to posttraumatic stress or anxiety can alter perceptions and result in strange sensations similar to symptoms of delirium. Rarely, people may experience symptoms of delirium as a result of psychoactive drugs.
- A.D.A.M. Editor Board. (2000, November 18). Delirium tremens. PubMed Health. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001771/
- Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Last Updated: 08-4-2015
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