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Psychosomatics. 2012 May-Jun;53(3):203-11. doi: 10.1016/j.psym.2011.12.005. Epub 2012 Apr 4.

A review of pharmacologic management and prevention strategies for delirium in the intensive care unit.

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Division of Consultation/Liaison Psychiatry, Dept. of Psychiatry, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA 23298, USA.



The prevalence of delirium has been estimated at anywhere between 10% and 30% in general medical patients and in upwards of 80% in patients who are admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU). Given the high prevalence of delirium in the ICU population, it should not be surprising that a large percentage of psychiatric consults arise from this setting. While the mainstay of pharmacologic management of delirium centers on neuroleptic medications, such as haloperidol, recent studies using alternate agents have shown varying levels of promise.


Our purpose is to outline the major prospective studies looking at the efficacy of pharmacologic management and prevention strategies for delirium exclusively in adult ICU patients. Both conventional and novel pharmacotherapeutic interventions are discussed.


Articles were obtained using the MEDLINE/PUBMED database looking specifically at pharmacologic interventions for delirium in the intensive care unit. A search was performed using the key words"delirium," "intensive care unit," "treatment," and "prophylaxis." The authors limited their search to prospective studies, specifically randomized trials (both placebo-controlled and non-controlled) in the adult ICU population, and eliminated retrospective and observational studies. Relevant citations from the previously mentioned articles were also included in the review.


There is a plethora of studies on pharmacologic management strategies in general medical patients with delirium. Findings from these studies are often extrapolated to the ICU population; however, when looking at studies limited to ICU patients with delirium, there are far fewer credible prospective studies.

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