Frequently Asked Questions

Acute Delirium

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What is acute delirium?

Delirium is a temporary state of confusion and change in consciousness. Consciousness is how alert and aware of your surroundings you are. With acute delirium, you have trouble remembering things, listening, or doing things you usually do.

What causes acute delirium?

Acute delirium may be caused by an illness or injury. The following may also cause acute delirium:

  • Drugs and alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol or using street drugs can cause delirium. Delirium can also occur if you use alcohol or drugs for awhile and then suddenly stop.

  • Chemicals: Exposure to chemical smoke or fumes can cause acute delirium.

  • Medical conditions: Conditions that decrease or stop blood from carrying oxygen to your brain can lead to delirium. This can include stroke or heart attack.

  • Medicine: Certain medicines, such as anesthesia, may increase your risk of acute delirium.

What signs and symptoms may be related to my acute delirium?

You may have fast mood changes. You may be confused and forget who people are, where you are, or what day it is. Your symptoms may come and go quickly. You may feel better at times and worse at other times. Acute delirium can be divided into 3 types:

  • Hyperactive:

    • You may be easily angered, restless, or excited.

    • You may have false beliefs about yourself and the area around you. These are called delusions.

    • You may hear, see, smell, or try to touch things that are not really there. These are called hallucinations.

    • You may not be able to pay attention well or forget things that have just been said.

    • You may have problems talking and thinking.

  • Hypoactive:

    • You may feel lazy or sleepy.

    • You may not care about what happens around you and may not want to eat.

    • You may be slow to think, move, or respond to people.

  • Mixed: With this type, you have a mix of signs and symptoms from hyperactive and hypoactive delirium.

How is acute delirium diagnosed?

Healthcare providers will ask when the condition started and what symptoms you felt. You or someone close to you should tell them when your symptoms improve or get worse. Tell them if you had an accident or head injury. Tell them about any numbness or weakness in your body. Tell them about any medical problems that you have. Tell them if you are around any chemicals at work or home. Tell them if you had any recent surgery or are taking any medicines. If you drink alcohol, tell them how much and how often you drink it. Tell them if you use street drugs, what kind and how much you use, and how long you have been doing this.

How is acute delirium treated?

If a medical condition is causing your delirium, healthcare providers will treat it first. You may also need one or more of the following:

  • Antipsychotics: This medicine helps you stop seeing or hearing things that are not there.

  • Benzodiazepines: This medicine is used if your delirium occurs after you suddenly stop using drugs or drinking alcohol.

How can I manage my acute delirium?

  • Talk to counselors: Healthcare providers will work with you to help you feel calm and talk about your thoughts and feelings. They will help you remember where you are. They will work to keep you and those around you safe.

  • Talk to family and friends: Talk to those around you when you feel lonely or sad. Delirium can make you confused and forgetful. Ask for help when you forget the time, place, or names of people around you.

  • Change your surroundings: Keep your home or room quiet and comfortable. Surround yourself with familiar objects. Keep a calendar and clock nearby to remind you of the date and time. Keep pictures of your family and friends nearby. This will help you stay aware of yourself and the area around you. may also help you feel safe and calm.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have trouble remembering things.

  • You have trouble sleeping.

  • You are depressed.

When should I seek immediate help?

Seek immediate help or call 911 if:

  • You want to harm yourself or others.

  • You cannot eat or drink, and you feel weak or dizzy.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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