Delirium occurs when the normal sending and receiving of signals in the brain become impaired. This impairment is most likely caused by a combination of factors that make the brain vulnerable and trigger a malfunction in brain activity.
Delirium may have a single cause or more than one cause, such as a medical condition and medication toxicity. Sometimes no cause can be identified. Possible causes include:
- Certain medications or drug toxicity
- Alcohol or drug abuse or withdrawal
- A medical condition
- Metabolic imbalances, such as low sodium or low calcium
- Severe, chronic or terminal illness
- Fever and acute infection, particularly in children
- Exposure to a toxin
- Malnutrition or dehydration
- Sleep deprivation or severe emotional distress
- Surgery or other medical procedures that include anesthesia
Several medications or combinations of drugs can trigger delirium, including some types of:
Sept. 05, 2015
- Pain drugs
- Sleep medications
- Medications for mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression
- Allergy medications (antihistamines)
- Parkinson's disease drugs
- Drugs for treating spasms or convulsions
- Asthma medications
- Delirium. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. http://www.psychiatryonline.org. Accessed Sept. 2, 2015.
- Delirium. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/delirium-and-dementia/delirium. Accessed June 24, 2015.
- Francis J, et al. Diagnosis of delirium and confusional states. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 25, 2015.
- Francis J. Delirium and acute confusional states: Prevention, treatment, and prognosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 25, 2015.
- So far away: Twenty questions and answers about long-distance caregiving. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/so-far-away-twenty-questions-and-answers-about-long-distance-caregiving/support. Accessed June 24, 2015.
- Hshieh TT, et al. Effectiveness of multicomponent nonpharmacological delirium interventions: A meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015;175:512.
- Takahashi PY (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 7, 2015.
- Hall-Flavin DK (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 9, 2015.