Delirium is one of those terms whose meaning is universally recognized in a general sense, but its use in a medical context still needs clarification. The absent-minded professor who writers and filmmakers enjoy portraying maybe confused at times but he does not have delirium. We also expect that a player knocked out in a sporting event might awaken feeling a little confused, but they are not delirious. Delirium describes someone who has become disorientated, unable to remember basic personal information and be fully aware of what is going on around them. It may also be a symptom of dementia but this if this person quickly fell into this condition other health issues are probably involved.
Health experts recommend a simple test that anyone can use to see if someone they see confused might have delirium. Ask them for simple information that you expect every normal person to know. For example, you could ask for their name, how old they are, where they live, what day it is today, and other similar simple questions. If they do not respond or provide strange or confused answers, it gives grounds to suspect that they might have delirium.
The confusion and disorientation may be the best-known symptoms, but delirium also affects the working of the mind in many other ways. Someone in this condition could experience frightening hallucinations. They could easily become paranoiac and seek continual reassurances from close family and friends. Sometimes they become noticeably lethargic and seem inclined to avoid company. Doctors also note how this state of confusion tends to worsen at night.
If you are close to someone who suddenly becomes confused and you have grounds to suspect it could be delirium, you should take them to the nearest hospital or call emergency services for assistance. This becomes even more crucial if you observe on these people others signs of illness, for example, lips turning blue. However, if you know this person has diabetes, check their blood sugar reading. They need immediate hospitalization if the reading is high, but if it is low, quickly bring them some sugared drink or food. They should recover within 10 minutes. If you see no improvement, take them to the hospital or obtain speedy medical assistance.
Even if you have called emergency services, please stay with the confused person until the ambulance arrives. Speaking to them can have a calming influence, and it would not be safe to leave them alone on a busy street, or even in their own home. If possible, check with family members to see if this person takes medications, or check yourself in their drug cabinet, and see whatever information you can find about their medical history.
One of the most common causes is diabetics who fail to monitor their blood sugar levels properly and take corrective steps, but there are many other possibilities. The patient with signs of delirium might be having a stroke, or they could be suffering from an asthma attack. Various kinds of head injuries also trigger delirium. It is also possible this condition came about due to drug or alcohol abuse. Only a qualified doctor can reach an accurate diagnosis.
Statistics gathered by the British health service reveal that as many as one in ten hospital patients experience one or more periods of delirium. As might be expected, it happens far more often to older adults who have dementia and to patients suffering from illnesses that affect the workings of the brain, for example, strokes and certain kinds of infection. Patients who are hearing or eyesight disabled are also more likely to experience delirium.
They first must verify that this is a case of delirium. They do this by interviewing the patient as far as possible, observing their behavior and studying medical history details. Once they make the delirium diagnosis, they try to find out what is the most probable cause of the delirium. They usually ask for blood and urine tests; sometimes they decide that an X-Ray could help identify the root of this problem, or they might ask for a heart tracing (ECG).
This period varies according to the individual's physical and emotional state and the source of their delirium. Those who have suffered head injuries take the longest time to recover. Recovery times are usually quite short in most other cases. As soon as the doctors identify the problem source and treat it, some patients get back to normal in a matter of a few hours, or it could take a number of days or weeks. After they recover the patient often has no recollection of having had delirium.
Doctors today are reluctant to administer sedatives to someone with symptoms of delirium. They know that these medications often aggravate the situation, but in certain situations, they might have little alternative. For example, sedation could be justified if this delirium patient is extremely agitated and family and nurses cannot calm him or her down. It is much easier for the doctor to treat this kind of patient after sedation, and they might be concerned about the harm the patient might cause to themselves or others because of their state of agitation.
It is possible for the delirium to return if the cause diagnosis was incorrect and the treatment not fully effective. This might happen to a patient who has an infection or some other type of illness. This person needs immediate medical attention if their delirium reoccurs. Further treatment might involve a transfer from a general hospital ward to the specialized facilities a psychiatric hospital could provide.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.