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Int Rev Psychiatry. 2009 Feb;21(1):43-58. doi: 10.1080/09540260802675296.

Delirium in the intensive care unit.

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  • 1Center for Health Services Research, Vanderbilt Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee 37232-8300, USA.


Delirium is a common manifestation of acute brain dysfunction in critically ill patients with prevalence as high as 75%. In the last years there has been a progressive increase of publications regarding intensive care (ICU) delirium, acknowledging its importance. The occurrence of delirium in ICU is related to more adverse outcomes including self-extubation and removal of catheters, prolonged hospitalization, increased costs, higher mortality, and potentially, long-term cognitive impairment. The pathophysiology explaining the processes subtending the development of delirium is still elusive, though several theories have been discussed. It is known that different risk factors are associated with delirium in the ICU. Patients in ICU frequently receive medications to treat pain and to ensure sedation, but an association between these drugs and delirium has been shown. Therefore, this pharmacological exposure should be modified to reduce the risk factors. Giving the multifactorial genesis of delirium, multicomponent interventions to prevent delirium developed in non-ICU settings can be adapted to critically ill patients with the purpose of reducing the incidence. When delirium is diagnosed the use of typical and atypical antipsychotics may be effective for its treatment. Future studies should evaluate target interventions to prevent delirium in the ICU.

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