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Ann Clin Psychiatry. 1997 Dec;9(4):219-26.

The duration of delirium in medical and postoperative patients referred for psychiatric consultation.

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  • 1Section of Psychiatry and Psychology, Virginia Mason Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle 98111, USA.



We wished to produce a complete frequency distribution of the duration of delirium in a large number of patients referred for psychiatric consultation, plot the data as a "survivorship" curve for delirium, and examine differences between postoperative and medical patients and between demented and nondemented patients.


The senior author entered into the study 94 consecutive patients referred to him because of confusion and agitation and diagnosed by him as having a delirium and followed them closely throughout their hospital course. Patients were telephoned for follow-up after discharge.


The rate of disappearance of delirium appeared log linear for approximately 2 weeks, but rate of resolution for medical patients was slower than for postoperative patients. The mean and median duration of delirium for medical patients were, respectively, 13.2 and 8 days, and for postoperative patients, 7.6 days and 6 days. Combined mortality over 3 1/2 years was 46.8%. Demented patients had longer average durations of delirium than nondemented patients, but differences were not statistically significant because of large variance.


In a large heterogeneous group of hospitalized patients referred for psychiatric consultation, the mean duration of delirium was shorter for postoperative than for medical patients. The difference could not be explained by different criteria for referral. Mortality was high for both groups.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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